Locals lose recreational gem with closure of Mount Pleasant’s only bowling alley

Carol Ann Curran launches the ball down the lane during her last Thursday morning at Pinz Bowling in Mount Pleasant. She has been bowling with a group of friends at the lanes every week for years.

Vera Adams lifted her bowling ball to her chest, took a deep breath, and sent it down the oiled lane.

She watched it spin with a nervous smile, almost as if she didn’t want to look, until — Smack! — one pin fell and the rest toppled over for the first spare of the game.

“Yeah!” she squealed, as other members of the senior citizens’ bowling group cheered behind her.

She skipped back to the leather couch behind the foul line, beaming with pride. A teammate pulled her into a congratulatory hug.

“I come here for the camaraderie,” said Adams, who retired from AT&T in 2009.

She lives in West Ashley’s Maryville neighborhood but has made the trip east of the Cooper every Thursday to bowl with a group of about a dozen senior citizens at Pinz Bowling and More on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard.

The East Cooper area’s only bowling alley and arcade has anchored the shopping center since 1998 but will soon be replaced by Aldi, a grocery chain with stores across the globe. It’ll be the sixth grocery store to open in the roughly two-mile stretch between Houston Northcutt and Anna Knapp boulevards.

Pinz’s last day open is Sunday, which means Thursday was this senior bowling group’s final meet-up in Mount Pleasant. Next week, the nearest bowling facilities will be The Alley on Columbus Street in downtown Charleston or Ashley Lanes in West Ashley.

“It’s just taking our entertainment away, and our exercise,” said Carolyn Walters of Isle of Palms. She and husband Harvin have been bowling here with various groups almost as long as the alley has been open. “We need one over here because us senior citizens can’t drive way over yonder.

“We could just cry,” she said.

By noon Thursday, Pinz was packed with people of all ages. Heather Jones of West Ashley herded her two kids back out into the heat after an attendant told her it would be a two-hour wait for a lane. She stopped to warn her friend, Tanya Hanchon, and her daughter as the pair made their way in from the parking lot.

“I guess everybody wanted to make it over here before it closes,” Jones told her.

The moms were upset their kids won’t get another chance to bowl at Pinz. It was a regular summertime activity for both families, more affordable than other indoor attractions.

“We’re not families that throw our kids into camps all the time, so this is a really great way to get our kids active, doing something fun, where it’s not 100 degrees,” said Hanchon, who lives downtown. “And for another grocery store? We really need another grocery store in the 2 miles where there are already five grocery stores?”

Lee Zavakos, who has operated the bowling alley for two years, said it was simply a business decision.

“This wasn’t an issue that the (bowling) center was underperforming,” he said. “This was really just a decision driven by what was best for the real estate and the shopping center. It’s a no-brainer.”

That’s saying a lot coming from Zavakos, who said he has bowling in his DNA.

“My grandfather and his brother were Greek immigrants who came over in 1914 and got into the bowling business in Dayton, Ohio, which is where we’re from,” he said.

The family came to the Charleston area in 1984 and opened Royal Z Lanes bowling alley in Goose Creek, then others in parts of South Carolina including Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach and Camden. He still owns two, in Columbia and Irmo.

Zavakos opened the one in Mount Pleasant and sold it to new owners several years later. It changed names and owners a second time before the shopping center took it over in 2014 and tapped Zavakos to run it. Over its 19 years, the alley has been called Twin Rivers, River Bowl and Sparians.

“I’ve always had a personal connection to this place,” Zavakos said. “(It’s) a little bittersweet that it’s closing down and going away.”

On the bright side, he’s looking to build a new bowling alley somewhere in the area if he can get investors on board.

“It’s just a matter of putting the right group of people together to make it happen,” he said.

Bowling alleys have been dwindling across the country and in the Charleston area in recent years as competitive leagues, the most reliable patrons, have become less common.

Alyssa Tsafos, manager of the Royal Z Lanes in Goose Creek, now owned by her family, said their bowling alley doesn’t seem to be falling victim to those trends.

“I honestly don’t think we’re going in that direction at all. There’s just a lot of struggle being in the bowling business, whether it’s keeping up with the maintenance, the customers or the leagues,” she said.

Still, Zavakos doesn’t think the activity is going extinct anytime soon. New bowling facilities just have to adapt to modern tastes.

“You have to add other things to the mix to really make the business plan work,” he said, citing activities such as laser tag or expanded food and beverage offerings. “People want a complete entertainment experience.”

And over in this part of town, he said that’s bound to work.

“Mount Pleasant is the fastest-growing city east of the Mississippi. There’s plenty of population over here to support a facility,” he said, sounding a lot like some enthusiastic bowlers just beyond his office door.

“I do not have the bowling gene out of my system,” he said. “My father, my grandfather ... they would roll in their graves if I was absolutely out of the business.”

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail