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Many Americans bowl during the holidays. I’ve joined families working off the turkey with a little kegling on Thanskgiving. Others like to roll on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. At Circle Lanes, holiday bowlers can now enjoy the convenience of automatic scoring. The venerable bowling alley has been upgraded to a bowling center!

This isn’t just a boon for the mathematically challenged, it means the facility can now host big tournaments. On April 21, hundreds of bowling officials from leagues around Chicago will descend on Circle Lanes to compete and hopefully consider relocating their leagues to Forest Park.

League bowling is down at Circle, as it is across the country. Many bowling alleys have been torn down for condos. Circle itself was at a crossroads. Would the owners silence the sound of crashing pins after 70 years? Or, would they reinvest to keep Circle Lanes current? They decided to spend a quarter of a million dollars for automated scoring and flat screen TVs.

Manager Marty Considine first detected the drop in business back in the mid ’90s. At that time, Circle enjoyed a steady income from 30 leagues that bowled from September to April.  They once hosted a hundred people for their New Year’s Eve Candlelight Bowl, one of ten such extravaganzas held annually.

Gradually, the leagues folded – now there are ten – and the Candlelights and Super Bowl parties succumbed to poor attendance. This Thanksgiving was the first that Circle Lanes was closed, due to lack of demand.

It would have been easy to shut the place down, but, in July, the new equipment was installed. Not everyone was pleased. Veteran bowlers complained about the missing scoring tables, and persisted in recording their strikes and spares in pencil. While the younger set found that, with the electronic boards, they no longer had to journey to more modern lanes to avoid brain-strain.

The new equipment is one of many upgrades Circle Lanes has undergone. In 1986, the old wood lanes were replaced by urethane, while the ball returns went underground. In 1997, pool tables were added and are still available for a reasonable eight bucks per hour.

In their efforts to lure customers, Circle Lanes never resorted to Cosmic Bowling. Dave, who maintains the Brunswick machines, claims Cosmic Bowling attracts an element of semi-destructive kids. He would know.

Not that the place isn’t kid-friendly. It has a free party room for birthdays and provides a practice venue for teams from Trinity and Fenwick.  On Saturdays, it supplies equipment so that bowlers from the West Suburban Special Recreation Association can enjoy the game.

I wouldn’t have known about Circle’s changes, if I hadn’t persuaded my long-time pool partner to take another 8-ball beating. The place was packed. As Marty has long observed, when it gets cold, business picks up. At Circle Lanes, “Happy Holidays” actually means something.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.