Anniston resident Jerry Taylor has been bowling regularly since 1962.
As of Friday, the 80-year-old will bowl no more.
“I don’t want to go all the way to Gadsden or Talladega,” said Taylor, the last president of the Anniston chapter of the U.S. Bowling Congress.
Taylor and other Calhoun County bowlers were left without a place to practice the sport after the Thursday closure of Anniston Bowling Center in Blue Mountain. The bowling alley, in operation on Blue Mountain Road since at least the 1960s, was locked Friday morning, with drywall over its doors. It was the only bowling alley in the county.
“When you’re 76 years old, it’s hard to look after two places at once,” said owner Bill Sandlin. Sandlin lives in Cullman, where he also owns Cullman Bowling Center. Sandlin’s Cullman alley is temporarily closed while it gets updated and renovated. Sandlin said he simply couldn’t keep up with that and the running of a distant alley at the same time.
“I really don’t have anybody to blame but myself,” Sandlin said.
Once known as No-Me Lanes, the bowling center saw its fortunes rise and fall with Anniston’s growing and shrinking population, and it weathered changes that often reflected the changes in society at large.
Original owner Noah Weldon “gave bowling on the local scene life” when he opened No-Me near Fort McClellan in 1958, according to a 1960 story in The Anniston Star. That story also announced No-Me’s expansion to a second bowling alley, depicted in an artist’s rendering as an unadorned building with a giant replica bowling ball and pin on its façade. Owners at the time said the alley was “overflowing” with clients in the then-booming military town.
It’s unclear whether the alley on Blue Mountain Road was No-Me’s first building or its second.
By the end of the 1970s, the sport had lost a lot of its local appeal. A 1980 account in The Star tells of new owner Jack Bowen’s effort to counter bowling’s “seedy” reputation. He renamed the alley, calling it Anniston Bowling Center, and hired security guards to keep away loiterers and drunks.
“It was sort of a hangout, and I didn’t want that,” Bowen said in 1980.
The alley survived, in part because of a cadre of loyal league bowlers. Through the 1980s, the Model Bowlerettes, the Wednesday Night Leftovers, the Honeybee Ladies and the Anniston City League all competed there, the top scores regularly reported by The Star’s sports writers.
Even into this century, the community was tight-knit. When Bowling Center regulars Joseph and Andrew Burch were killed in a 2002 robbery and multiple murder at the Blockbuster Video on McClellan Boulevard, fellow bowlers organized a charity tournament on their behalf. Organizers did little publicity in the first year of the event, according to The Star, for fear the growing attention would force a change of venue in the killers’ trial.
Sandlin said the alley never fully recovered from the local decline in business after the 2008 recession. Taylor, the Anniston bowler, said the crowd in recent years was mostly older. When younger people did bowl, they were less interested in the league play that brings regular business to an alley.
“Younger people just don’t care to join a league,” said Taylor, who averaged about 180 in his prime and still hits 160 or 170 now. “People have too many other things to do.”
Taylor describes himself as “immediate past president” of the Anniston chapter of the Bowling Congress, which oversees competitive play. The group has ceased to exist, he said, because there’s nowhere to play.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Taylor said.
He said he feels bad for the alley’s youngest players, school kids who would come the bowling center for Saturday morning lessons.
The nearest places to bowl now are Talladega Bowling Center and Paradise Lanes in Rainbow City. A new, 12-lane alley that’s part of a larger entertainment center is expected to open in Pell City by the end of the year.
Sandlin said the Anniston alley has been up for sale for two months. He said he’s heard from interested parties, but hasn’t sold it yet. It’s listed with Harris-McKay Realty for $399,000.
“Somebody could be successful with bowling there, if they put a little money into it,” he said.