Tony Ello, the owner with his wife, Evelyn, of Westchester Lanes, has this
advice for folks: “If you want businesses to stay in Chesterton, you have to
frequent Chesterton businesses.”
Sadly, it’s too late for Westchester Lanes: the bowling alley will close for
good on Saturday, July 20, with only limited hours until then: Saturdays
Also closing: Rivals Dining, which had its grand opening only two months
Westchester Lanes has been “steadily operational” for something like 42
years, Ello told the Chesterton Tribune on Wednesday, and under the
Elloes’ management for the last seven years. Over those seven years,
however, Ello has watched the bowling alley’s clientele gradually erode,
until it became clear to him that Dunelanders would rather go elsewhere or
do something else.
“There’s a huge lack of interest in having a bowling center in Chesterton,”
Ello said. “People who live in Chesterton want to go to Portage. They want
to go to Valparaiso. They want to push things out of here.”
“It was time to make that decision,” Ello concluded. “Chesterton doesn’t
realize when they have a good thing.”
The erosion of the business wasn’t simply a function of local disinterest,
Ello noted. Nationwide there is a trend away from bowling, as kids who once
upon a time might have taken to the alleys are now video-gaming or--with the
development of indoor sports facilities--becoming involved in year-round
athletics. “As the older bowlers retire now, there’s nobody to replace
them,” he said.
But at the heart of the problem, in Ello’s view, is Duneland’s apathy.
“Chesterton is not the type of community that wants to take care of
Chesterton,” he said.
In an attempt to attract new bowlers, the Elloes “pushed up open bowling,
instead of league play.” And they reserved blocks of time for free bowling.
“It can’t get better than that,” he said. “But even at free, people don’t
want a bowling center in Chesterton.”
The Elloes also began a summer “Kids Bowl Free” program and advertised it in
the Duneland School Corporation. Something like 1,000 kids registered but
only about 30 ever showed up, and then only once or twice during the course
of the summer.”
And Ello wondered: “How much should I pay for other people to bowl free?
That’s what the decision came down to.”
“A lot of people are calling and asking ‘What can I do to help?’” Ello
added. “I’ve been saying it for seven years, ‘If you like this, tell a
friend and get them to tell a friend.’”
Is there a chance of a white knight’s riding to the rescue of Westchester
Lanes? “I would doubt it,” Ello said. “If someone said ‘Let’s buy it or go
into a partnership,’ I can’t see it lasting very long.”
Ello is emphatic that folks shouldn’t worry about him or Evelyn. They’re
both well employed elsewhere. No, the moral of this story for Ello is that
if you don’t use it, you will lose it.
There’ll be three more nights of midnight bowling from 9 to 11 p.m.:
Saturday, July 6, July 13, and July 20. Free adult bowling on those nights
from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Karaoke with Billy will continue on Saturdays through July 20.