Any day if the pins align, Skyway Bowl will open again.
With new balls and new shoes and new pins, Lionel Lewis will be living the dream.
He will run the bowling alley on Melvin Avenue that seemed destined for oblivion.
The alley, opened in 1957 as Skyway Lanes. For 62 years it was a beacon for bowling in Hamilton, until the longtime owner decided to retire, sold the property, and the building went black.
Bowlers like Lewis, who started work as a pin chaser at Skyway in 1983, felt adrift.
“It was one big family here,” Lewis says.
Skyway Lanes is a flat as a pancake building, sandwiched between six-story apartment buildings on Melvin Avenue in east Hamilton.
It looks like a perfect location for a Wes Anderson movie.
To Brad Lamb, it looked like the perfect location for more apartments.
Brand Lamb, the developer of groovy condos, the force behind the future Television City, condo towers on the CHCH-TV property, bought Skyway Lanes in 2019.
“I saw it as a future development site,” Lamb said of the location. “But I didn’t intend to head-hunt for a guy to run a bowling alley.”
He put the building up for rent.
Then Lionel Lewis leapt into action.
“About six moths ago, Lionel started bugging me, he was so persistent he got me excited about bowling, about bringing it back,” Lamb says.
Lionel put together a business plan. Lamb put together a bundle of cash to put a shine back into Skyway.
Lanes were refinished, the snack bar expanded, the parking lot resurfaced, and equipment updated.
“I could have bought a very high-end, luxury sports car for what it costs me,” Lamb says.
But he liked the idea Lewis would be providing jobs, and the bowling family of Skyway would be reunited.
I met Lewis at the renamed Skyway Bowl.
“I bought a new shirt for the interview,” he says while fidgeting with enthusiasm in front of his 24- lane kingdom.
To hear Lewis, an ace bowler himself, describe it, Skyway was like the TV show Cheers. Everyone knew your name. It thrived in an era when leagues were popular, and people took bowling seriously.
As a former pin chaser, mechanic and pro shop boss, Lewis knew that Skyway Bowl needed some love.
He ordered new shoes. “People steal them.”
Her ordered 50 new balls from Brunswick at $60 a pop. Boxes of new pins arrived, lanes were refinished. His family is helping.
“We painted the walls with modern colours,” he says.
But the wonderful, spacey graphics plastered above the pins remain.
“League bowlers will be happy here,” Lewis says with confidence. “And so will the social bowlers.”
After it passes all the city requirements, Skyway will open with COVID precautions. For safe spacing only 12 of the 24 lanes will be in use.
Both Brad Lamb and Lionel Lewis believe bowling can have a good run at Skyway Bowl because there’s not much competition.
As for future development of the site? It’s a long way off.
“I’m not sure I’ll be alive,” Lambs says.
But he’ll be there for the reopening of Skyway Bowl, expected later this month.
“I never gave up, I knew there was a future,” Lewis says, still throwing strikes after all these years.