PinbusterZ Family Fun Center unveils Cosmic Bowling

How do you attract previous customers and entice new ones to an industry once dominated by families?

By upping the wow factor with black lights, glow-in-the-dark shoes and video games.

“There’s nothing like it around here,” said Patt Johnson Sr., general manager of PinbusterZ Family Fun Center in East Multnomah County. “What we have is pretty unique.”

PinbusterZ has brought family entertainment into the ‘hood by offering a new twist on an old form of entertainment. The former Rose Bowl bowling center at Southeast 164th Avenue and East Powell Boulevard is a shell of its former self, now boasting an area devoted to youngsters and loaded with stuff that speaks to them.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Bowling shoes, and their laces, glow in the dark when worn for Cosmic Bowling.

Cosmic Bowling at PinbusterZ officially opened last fall after nearly six months of construction. The “Party Room,” as it’s referred to by management, features a space-age look for the preteen crowd, complete with a dazzling celestial décor. A mural of floating planets caps the back of the lanes, while images of bowling balls and bowling pins on the carpeting and ball returns glow in the dim black lights. And the entire area is fronted by the latest in video games, as well as some old-school favorites.

But the most unique features of PinbusterZ Cosmic Bowling are the seven bowling lanes themselves. They are shorter — 40 feet versus the standard 60 feet in length — and separated from the adult side of the house by a wall. Plus, house balls are between 4 and 8 pounds, perfect weights for budding bowlers.

“The reason we went with the shorter lanes is because usually the 3-, 4- and 5-year olds have a hard time throwing the ball hard enough to hit the pins,” Johnson said. “This works out well for them. But when you get a child who can handle throwing a 10-pound ball, they belong on the full-size lanes.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: ANNE ENDICOTT - Cosmic Bowling at PinbusterZ Family Fun Center features shorter lanes and lighter weight bowling balls for the preteen crowd, in a black light setting.

The move toward family entertainment, Johnson said, is an effort to rejuvenate an industry that has seen a steady drop in participation the past few years. Adult bowlers once used on-site childcare areas during league play, which generally produced a healthy supply of junior bowlers as those children grew up.

But according to the United States Bowling Congress, which keeps track of the number of adult and junior bowlers, membership has tapered off from a high of 9 million bowlers in 1978 to 1.8 million in 2012.

“A lot of us longtime bowlers are getting older,” said Johnson, who has been a regular bowler at the center since 1974. “We’re trying to get some new blood in here and introduce a new generation to the sport. A lot of people don’t even know that there are college scholarships for bowling out there for kids.”

To bring in that “new blood,” PinbusterZ has joined more than 1,000 other bowling centers in the United States and Canada to offer the Kids Bowl Free summer program. Families who register will receive two free bowling passes for each child, via email, weekly through Aug. 31. The only cost incurred is a $3.50 daily shoe rental fee.

But PinbusterZ is appealing to adult bowlers by offering summer specials for them as well. Gathering a group for an outing at the center is cheaper, Johnson said, and can also be tailor-made to include snacks and beverages.

Between the Kids Bowl Free program, upcoming summer specials and Cosmic Bowling, Johnson is hopeful the new offerings will strike an interest among bowlers and produce a perfect game for everyone.

“We’re hoping that the kids will come in for the free games over the summer and return in the fall for our junior program,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to promote a good, fun atmosphere. If the kids are happy, mom and dad are happy and they’ll come back. That’s how I look at it.”

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