Romano's Saranac Lanes is quiet for the moment while owners Cathy and Jeff get ready for another day at the bowling alley.
Cathy bustles around the Changing Times Cafe while Jeff sits on the floor with his friend and co-worker Dick Barton tackling an issue with one of the bowling ball return mechanisms.
"I think Jeff was born in a bowling alley," Cathy laughs. "He started bowling young and even worked as a bowling alley manager while working in the city at Rikers Island."
Cathy and Jeff Romano keep bowling up to date for all ages.
(Photo —Diane Chase)
Jeff worked as a correctional officer at Rikers Island in New York City. Rikers is said to hold a daily inmate population between 13,000 and 18,000. The more than 400-acre Correctional Facility has 10 major jails as well as operating the four borough jails in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, 16 court detention facilities and three hospital prison wards.
"Working at Rikers wasn't a lot of fun," Cathy acknowledges. "I think working at the bowling alley enabled him to release some of the pent-up stress from working in the prison."
The idea to relocate was a leap of faith. The bowling alley in Saranac Lake had been for sale for a few years and each time the Romanos would come to visit family they would always discuss the possibility of owning it themselves.
Cathy started coming to the area when her brother attended Clarkson University. Her brother had met a friend whose family had a house in Keeseville. When that house came up for sale her parents bought it originally thinking they may relocate from Brooklyn. Instead they used it as a vacation home until finally retiring there.
"After my other brother got out the Navy he ended up enrolling in Paul Smith's," says Cathy. "Jeff and I would come up and visit and bring our girls.
"My two girls and I came up for Carnival weekend in 2005 and Jeff asked if that bowling alley was still for sale," Cathy said. "At that point, the bowling alley was closed. We were driving home and I starting thinking how Jeff was going to retire in a year from the corrections department and I'm a teacher who can't find a job. Maybe this would be a nice venture. That was it. The seed was planted."
It was a quick process with the Romanos purchasing the bowling alley and moving to Saranac Lake. After extensive renovations with all-new, top-of-the-line equipment, the doors to Romano's Saranac Lanes opened in September 2006.
Cathy ponders for a moment, "My whole thought from the very beginning was if we didn't do it I would always wonder. We struggle like anyone else with the economy. We are going into our fifth season. It's like having four full businesses. We have the restaurant, bar, pro shop and bowling alley. It is a combination of all of them that gets us by. We put in a lot of hours."
She and Jeff acknowledge that moving was difficult on the girls, Elizabeth and Katie, in the beginning. Elizabeth was a freshman in high school while Katie was in eighth grade.
"I think it was a good experience for them. Living here opens them up to so many new experiences. If I had to do it again, I would."
In Brooklyn, Cathy had worked in a savings bank. She had always been interested in teaching and had received her associate's degree in early childhood education. After the birth of her daughters she went back to school to get her bachelor's in elementary education. She started working as a classroom tutor and leave replacement.
"I received my master's in special education the April after we moved here," she smiles. "I did substitute teach when we first moved here but we were so busy at Saranac Lanes. Now I get to be around kids of all ages."
Jeff stops by, taking a break from a maintenance check on the bowling equipment.
"Anyone can bowl. It really helped me out when I was a kid and it can help other kids. I wasn't a football player and it was a great option for me. It is also one of the cheapest options. All the equipment that is needed is provided here."
Cathy wants kids to have a place to hang out and interact with each other. She realizes that kids are isolated a lot of the time, sitting at home and spending too much time watching TV or videos. According to Cathy and Jeff, bowling gives kids the opportunity to communicate, socialize and learn to interact with each other. It is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Some colleges even offer scholarships for bowling.
"The technology we have here is top of the line with self-scoring, electronic bumpers for youngsters while still maintaining an old fashion feel," says Cathy. "We hope this place can be used as an alternative to hanging out on the streets. Parents can drop off their children. We try to keep it affordable because we know times are tight. We want to give families something to do. Like our summer program where all area school kids can sign up for a bowling card and bowl one game for free every day of the summer. We are also having a pancake breakfast with Santa on Dec. 12 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and the kids can bowl with Santa."
Cathy explains they have after school specials and "school out" deals for those times when school is closed like Superintendent Days - two games for $5 and $1 for shoes - as well as their Youth Bowling on Saturdays where all games are $2 and $1 for shoes, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To keep themselves up to date within their industry, Jeff and Cathy attend different bowling shows and clinics. Recently they were in Atlantic City, N.J. as members of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America. This trade show has seminars and workshops that allow owners to network and share experiences to provide the best service to their customers.
For the past four years Jeff has also taught a one-credit course at North Country Community College, PED Bowling. According to the NCCC website the Physical Education activity courses are to expose students to "the rules, strategy, free play, and competition providing activity and cognitive opportunities dependent on each student's own level of ability."
The Romanos can't quite pinpoint the exact origin of bowling but know it has been around for centuries. The International Bowling Museum states that King Edward III outlawed the game in 1366 to keep his soldiers focused on archery while a rudimentary bowling game was found in an Egyptian grave dating to 3200 B.C.
Even though the game is fun, it can even help kids in school. The BPAA developed a learning curriculum built around the sport that demonstrates how bowling can help set and accomplish goals, aid in eye-hand coordination, help concentration and build confidence.
"With each day, each year that goes by, we learn a little something more and it gets smoother," says Cathy. "We are adding new events all the time. We are looking toward a bowling club in the school. Bowling doesn't have that negative stigma anymore of a dark, smoky place. It is a place for anyone of any age to be able to come and enjoy a few hours of fun. It's a sport where you can be as serious as you want or just come to be with friends."