Jenny GoldsmithSpecial to the Bonanza

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January 5, 2012
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Meet Your Merchant: Bowl Incline – putting a vintage spin on family fun

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — You step up to the foul line, grip the weighted ball to your chest and take in a deep breath. The only thing that stands between you and the possibility of an elusive strike is 60 feet of polished, wooden surface where ten pins ultimately stand in a triangular formation, awaiting their fate. You take a few calculated strides and extend your arm back before lunging forward, thrusting the ball down the narrow aisle. For a short time, the only sound you hear is the bowling bowl rolling rhythmically down the lane. You stand; watching, waiting, hoping your expertise or perhaps your luck will be enough to inhibit the ball from shamefully falling victim to the gutters on either side of the lane.Very few people can say they’ve never been bowling. It’s performed by professionals on ESPN, it’s a popular birthday party event for children. There are league bowlers, amateur bowlers, first-time bowlers and lifelong bowlers. It’s a sport almost anyone can partake in at any point in their lives.At Bowl Incline, it’s an iconic throwback to a more simple time. The lanes are remodeled annually, but the interior dcor radiates nostalgia with its retro color schemes and rustic furnishings. It’s a place of camaraderie, friendly competition and family togetherness. Unlike corporate bowling centers equipped with bright lights and loud pop music, Bowl Incline is family-owned and operated, and filled with homage to the sport. In 1988, Sam Waldman purchased Bowl Incline — the first of many commercial real estate investments the entrepreneur would invest in. In ’92, when Waldman took over Incline Car Wash and Storage, he called upon his daughter and son-in-law to lend a helping hand. Curt Wegener and his wife, Mindy, were living in Philadelphia at the time, with Wegener plugging away at the financial services industry, when they decided to pick up everything and move to North Lake Tahoe to join the family business. In 1996, the operation expanded with the addition of the Kings Beach Car Wash, followed by WW Ranch in Minden one year later. As an avid horseman, Waldman envisioned a place to trail ride, board horses and most importantly, provide a therapeutic treatment center for children who suffer from mental illnesses and physical challenges.Unfortunately, Waldman witnessed the success of this passion project — Kids andamp; Horses — for only one year before succumbing to adrenal cancer in October 2000. “Sam was an all-around great guy,” said Leyton Collins, operations manager at Bowl Incline for the past 20 years. “I didn’t have a good relationship with my father … but I was able to sit down with Sam at times and talk to him about the things going on in my life; it was sad to see him go.”The Wegeners mourned the loss of their father while taking the reins of all four businesses — a feat that hasn’t proven easy, particularly since the recession, Curt Wegener said. “The last four years have been extremely challenging with the economy and the banks not lending money,” Wegener said. “It’s been a struggle, but we’ll stick it out until things get better.”The challenges of maintaining a bowling center in Incline Village go beyond the downturn in the economy. League membership numbers have been on the decline and the state-wide smoking ban proved good for the lungs, but bad for the pocketbook.However, Wegener continues to invest in new marketing strategies, up-to-date equipment and nonprofit organizations that rely on the venue to host events. “We are incredibly generous with that sort of thing because it’s all a part of being in the community and being family-owned,” Wegener said.While Wegener has his hands full dividing his time between each business and his family, he finds spare time to participate in league bowling and compete in local lacrosse games — a sport he’s helping develop in Tahoe. “I thought my days of lacrosse were over when I moved to Incline, but it’s been a sport that is growing here and I’m glad it’s something I can still enjoy,” Wegener said. Similar to most small business owners, the Wegener family must find ways to pinch pennies, but not necessarily at the expense of the customer, Wegener said.Monday night specials continue to boast $2 shoe rentals, bowling rates and domestic draft beers, and residents are encouraged to join a league bowling team on Tuesday through Thursday. Sunday is dubbed “family day” and shoe rentals are free for everyone. There are also a plethora of pool tables, a full-bar, gaming machines, a full-swing golf simulator, an arcade, and a pro-shop — activities you don’t often find at corporate bowling centers. “I worked for bowling corporations for many years and going from the corporate atmosphere back to the front lines and a family-run center was a nice change,” said Collins. “I’ll stick with this place as long as they will have me.”

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 5, 2012 02:19PM Published Jan 5, 2012 02:16PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.