By Jobetta Hedelman-Beaver
The Tri-Cities has grown and changed over the years, but one thing that has stayed constant is that families can head to Atomic Bowl in Richland for a good time. And as the longtime business celebrates its anniversary, the owners are looking to the future.
Atomic Bowl celebrated its 60th year in business with a ’60s-themed party on Sept. 4. The celebration continued on Labor Day with 60-cent games and shoe rentals.
Max Faulkner, co-owner and managing partner, said the future looks bright for the business, which also includes Joker’s Comedy Club and Casino, which was added in the early 1990s.
Atomic Bowl was originally built in 1956 as Atomic Lanes and was known for a number of years as Fiesta Bowl, a press release said.
Faulkner has owned the business for about eight years, along with Dewey Burbank and Jerry Howe. He said that while nightclubs, casinos and comedy clubs are on a downturn in other cities, having all the businesses in one location is what makes his business stand out.
“We’re really unique,” Faulkner said. “I don’t know of anyone who has so much in one place.”
Atomic Bowl’s arcade, where players can earn tickets to redeem for prizes, is also a draw and planned improvements will give families even more options.
Promotions Manager Brian Cahalan said the upgrade, which should be complete this month, will make the business’ game room the largest in the Tri-Cities. In an $80,000 expansion, the arcade will get several new machines and black-light sensitive carpeting in addition to 1,000 square feet of more space.
The arcade’s mini-bowling alley will also get an upgrade, Faulkner said, with a new light-up floor that displays fun patterns.
Though there are no concrete plans in the works yet, Faulkner said he hopes to remodel the casino and event center as well, and possibly upgrade Atomic Bowl’s furniture to more comfortable seating.
A family-friendly venue
The state’s indoor smoking ban has “helped bring bowling out of the bar,” Faulkner said, making businesses like Atomic Bowl more family friendly.
“There’s so much to do and it’s a safe activity,” said Margo Faulkner, Max’s wife.
Margo Faulkner said the Kids Bowl Free program, which ran from May 15 through Labor Day, helped recent business. The national program lets kids play two free games each day in the summer and brings customers in at a time of year when business usually slows down.
The business owners are looking for other ways to encourage Richland’s younger residents to take up the sport, Faulkner said. About seven years ago, plans were made to use money from the building’s small candy machines to create a scholarship fund named for the late Bill Vosper, a longtime Atomic Bowl manager.
Faulkner said the fund now has a few thousand dollars and will eventually benefit female students at Hanford and Richland high schools, where girls’ bowling is a varsity sport. When the fund has built up enough, money will be awarded, Cahalan said.
“Bowling has been good here in Richland and we hope to keep it going,” Max Faulkner said.
Longtime customers Pat and John Rueckert said Atomic Bowl is a positive, family place. The Rueckerts bowled there in the ’80s, then stayed away for years when their work schedules didn’t allow time for the activity. But five years ago they retired and now are at the lanes several times a week for practice and league play.
Kennewick and Pasco also have their own bowling alleys, but the Rueckerts say they come to Atomic Bowl not just for the convenience of the location, but for the people.
“It’s like a family here,” Pat Rueckert said. “In the league, they’re happy when you have a good game and you’re happy when they have a good game.”
Atomic Bowl manager Serena Halls, a Tri-City native who worked for Atomic Bowl for about six years before taking time off to start her own business, has been back for about a year. She said she returned because she missed the family feel in the business.
“There’s such a sense of community in bowling,” she said, adding that most of the customers are regulars whom the 30 employees — another 80 people work in the other parts of the business — recognize and get to know.
“Most of the time, the customers aren’t grumpy. They’re here to party,” she said.
Halls said her favorite part of the job is watching little kids learn the sport and seeing the excitement they have when they realize they no longer need bumpers. She also loves the variety of activities available with a bowling alley, comedy club and casino all under one roof.
“You can bring your family and have a good time or bring a date and have a good time,” Halls said.
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