Renee and Cameron Fox come from Oso.
Keavy Landreth drives up from Seattle.
Joan Case of Stanwood has been showing up for 38 years.
“It’s all about the camaraderie, the fun,” said Chuck Seaburg, president of the Twin City Mixers — one of the long-time bowling leagues at Twin City Lanes in Stanwood.
“That’s what’s great about bowling — the people. And we have all types of people here: vegetarians, carnivores, serious blowers, clowns — and they all keep coming just to have fun with each other. It’s not tight-knit enough that they don’t welcome newcomers.”
At a time when bowling and their iconic lanes are slowly disappearing across the country, the Stanwood haunt has remained strong — mostly because the contagious culture surrounding the nearly 70-year-old alley.
“It’s a community,” said Danny Blanchard, who co-owns Twin City Lanes with his mother, Miriam Shadle. “I could call on anyone for help if we needed it. The relationships you build bowling will last a lifetime. I’ve put teams together where they didn’t know each other and now they vacation together. Some even got married.”
Blanchard is just another in a long line of bowling purveyors in his family. His mother took over ownership of Twin City Lanes in 1976 from her brother, Steve Miller — who took it over from their father, Ernie Miller. Now, Shadle’s granddaughter Zoe works there, too.
“I guess bowling is in our blood,” Shadle said.
It began with Ernie Miller, who got his start as a pinsetter in the 1940s. In 1943, he set pins by hand for 200 games in multiple alleys over the course of one day, which is still a world record. He went on to become a championship bowler, owning several Puget Sound area bowling centers, including Glacier Lanes in Everett, and was inducted into the Bowling Hall of Fame in 2000.
Ernie Miller died in 1999, but his decision to buy the Stanwood bowling alley — likely built in the early 1950s — can still be felt today.
“There have been lifelong relationships made because of this place,” said Blanchard, who has worked at Twin City — in a sense — since 1976, when as an 11-year-old he spent his time wiping down tables and keeping score for a quarter a game.
Bowling became popular because it’s fun, easy and cheap. The sounds of a ball thundering down a lane and crashing into 10 pins is unmistakable.
But it’s the minutes in between rolls that provide time to build bonds with fellow keglers. And in Stanwood, the bonds are tight. An example is a sad event that occurred about 10 years ago. A bowler collapsed and died while on the lane. After emergency responders left, Blanchard put out a bucket to buy a portable defibrillator unit for about $1,000.
“In two hours, it was full and we had enough money,” he said. “That just sums up this community.”
It is that sense of community that attracts bowlers from far away.
“We keep coming because of this crowd,” said Renee Fox, 61, who lives in Oso but has bowled in a league in Stanwood since 1998. “There’s a diversity of ages and personalities; it’s a fun mix. You don’t need gimmicky music; it’s just a good time.”
Fox, who has been bowling since age 4, said the league play started as date night with her now-husband, Cameron.
“I hope bowling never dies off,” she said. “I want to be bowling when I’m 90.”
Seventy-five-year-old Joan Case wouldn’t mind bowling at age 90, either.
“It’s not about the bowling, it’s about being with these people,” said Case, who started bowling in the Twin City Mixers league in 1981 after being on a waitlist for two years. “Sure, it’s more fun when you win, but that’s not why people keep coming back.”
The leagues at Twin City Lanes, which typically run from about September to April, typically have availability but always have enough to compete.
It’s a phenomena that’s bucking state and national trends.
From 1998-2013, the number of bowling alleys in the U.S. fell to 3,976 from 5,400, or by about 26%. In the Seattle area, 15 bowling alleys are still in operation, down from about 45 half a century ago, including eight that closed after the 2005 anti-smoking law voters approved by a two-thirds margin.
The Stanwood lanes never saw a dip in participation from the law.
“I always hated the smoke and how it gummed up the machines and built up gunk on the oil,” Shadle said. “You could scrape it off the lanes. It was billowing out of ashtrays. But, we didn’t really lose any bowlers because of smoking. We just made them go outside.”
Blanchard said people didn’t come to the bowling alley to smoke, they came for the fun.
“There are pranks,” he said coyly. “Just lots of goofing off and just plain fun.”
Keavy Landreth, 36, joined the league to bowl with her dad and uncle.
“This is my first time in the league,” the Seattle resident said. “But getting to know everyone has been great, it’s such a great atmosphere. I’m trying to get friends in Seattle to join.”