Michael Kilpatrick of Clearwater celebrates scoring a spare on a split with his friend Jeff Hughes of Largo, seated. Kilpatrick and Hughes, who were both on a men’s league at Twedt’s, brought their families to enjoy one last afternoon at the bowling alley Sept. 2.
LARGO – On Sept. 2, the family of bowlers and staff met for one last time at a small bowling alley in Largo.
Twedt’s Lanes, first opened in 1967, shut its doors this week, the property sold to an out-of-state corporation.
Tracy Bolton, who worked at the bowling center for 20 years, got teary-eyed as she echoed the sentiment of many in the room that day.
“It’s sad, very sad,” she said. “We’re like a big family.”
Bolton was pregnant with her second daughter while she worked at Twedt’s. Her daughters, now 18 and 22, grew up in the center, which hasn’t changed much over the years, she said. She, her daughters and other family members – the ones who weren’t working – came to bowl one last time and say goodbye to everyone Sept. 2.
“Everybody all week long has been making an appearance, coming to see the building one last time, come bowl a game or two,” Bolton said. “It’s a shame. Everybody’s getting together too late.”
The waiting list for a lane was an hour long that afternoon. Many of those bowling said they would miss the family atmosphere.
“A lot of bowling alleys are a lot larger than this. This one, it’s all family,” said Kay McAleer, who sat at the bar eating lunch with her husband, son and parents. “They know our names, what we like to eat and drink.”
“You get the same thing every time,” ribbed General Manager Todd Janssen, who played on a bowling league with McAleer.
Twedt’s is special because of its size, Janseen said. The staff has time to chitchat with the bowlers.
“When you’re this small, of course we know everybody by name and face. We get to know them on a more personal level,” he said. “They just pop their head in my door because they know they can.”
Janssen came to work at Twedt’s 15 years ago, moving from Ten Pin Lanes in Pasadena, the second bowling alley owned by Barbara Stealy and jointly called the “little centers with the big heart.” Janssen said Twedt’s has had its highs and lows, but he would miss the people most of all.
“You fight with them one week. And the next week, you come back, and you’re having a drink with them,” he said.
Stealy received a “very generous” offer to buy the property at an “opportune time,” Janssen said. According to Pinellas County property records, the sale closed Aug. 19, transferring the property at 13100 Seminole Blvd. to a company based in Kansas City, Mo., called Legacy Largo for $1.85 million.
Janssen said the new property owners plan to convert the bowling alley into a strip mall.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all. Everything around here’s being bought up,” said Janssen, who will become a general manager at Ten Pin Lanes. “I don’t know why they’re going to put a strip center here when they’ve got one (next door) that’s got three empty spots in it.”
During the winter, Twedt’s was home to about 16 leagues, some bringing a bus full of residents from nearby mobile home parks. The staff helped some of those leagues reestablish themselves at nearby bowling centers, Janssen said. Others were divided up into other leagues elsewhere.
Jim Thompson, a member of the bowling league from Lincolnshire Estates in Largo, said he wasn’t happy that the league would be playing at Liberty Lanes from now on.
“We’re comfortable here,” said the 83 year old. “The staff helps out every way they can.”
Lifelong Largo resident Erin Hughes and her family bowled one last time with the Kilpatrick family Sept. 2. She said she was sad that the “family lanes” were closing down. She remembered coming to the bowling center as a kid for youth groups and events. Her 93-year-old stepfather played on a league for 15 years. Her husband, Jeff, and Michael Kilpatrick played on a men’s league together. At least two of the families’ kids have had birthday parties at Twedt’s.
“You’re always connected somehow, even if you don’t come regularly,” she said. “Everybody knows everybody.”