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Ridgewood Lanes to shutter

Bowling alley served Fort Dodge for 65 years

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
After doing business in Fort Dodge for 65 years, the owners of Ridgewood Lanes announced on Thursday that it’s closing permanently.

For over 60 years, Fort Dodgers have laced up their bowling shoes and tried to knock down as many pins as they could at Ridgewood Lanes, 326 S. 25th St.

But a combination of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and an aging customer base has forced owners Bill Larson and Nicole Begalle to close the bowling alley.

“It is with overwhelming sadness that we are announcing the closing of Ridgewood Lanes,” Larson and Begalle said Thursday in a joint statement on Facebook. “After 65 years of business and friendships, we have decided to close our doors.”

Begalle said the virus has made it difficult to run the business.

“Bowling alleys are closing all over America and a lot of bowlers weren’t comfortable coming back and bowling league during COVID,” she said. “We have bowlers that are in the high-risk category. A lot weren’t comfortable coming back because of the pandemic going on. That many people being in a confined space. The numbers just weren’t there.”

Larson’s father, Don, started bowling alley. Sometime in the 1960s, the original building caught fire, according to Begalle. A new one was built in its stead not long after.

Bill Larson and Begalle have owned the bowling alley since 2004 after Don semi-retired, Begalle said.

Bill Larson and Begalle were married for several years but later divorced in 2009.

“We have remained the best of friends,” Begalle said.

And together they have made many more friends at the bowling alley.

“I can’t even express how much the people at the bowling alley mean to Bill and I,” Begalle said. “We all just wanted to get together to have fun each week. That was the hardest thing was to let those people know we are closing our doors. I will still see them out in the community but it won’t be quite the same.”

Some friends have passed away in recent times.

“We have a lot of the same bowlers that we did in the ’70s and we are all getting older,” Begalle said. “Some of us are getting injuries and not able to bowl anymore. We lost two of our favorites — Alvin Dencklau and Arnie Danker. We have tons of bowlers that we have loved over the years that have passed, but they were the most recent. They are just cherished members of the Ridgewood family and we lost them over the summer.”

Begalle said a combination of more activities available to younger people and couples working more jobs has had an impact on bowling alleys.

“It’s been a gradual decline over the last 20 years,” she said. “Back in the ’70s, there were three bowling alleys in town running three shifts each, maybe even a late night shift. It was a booming business in the ’70s.”

She added, “People are having to work more hours to support their families. A lot of people are shift workers so it’s hard for them to commit to a bowling league. There’s a lot of things that factor into it.”

Despite the closure, Begalle said she and Bill Larson are in a comfortable position financially.

“Luckily Bill and I were in a position to be able to close the bowling alley and pursue other things we have going on in our lives,” she said. “Randy Slawson (owner of Family Bowling Center) took over Family a few years ago and thought it would benefit both of us if Bill and I went ahead and closed the doors and he absorbed our business. At least one of us could stay open and thrive. I don’t think two bowling alleys can survive in Fort Dodge.”

Begalle said it’s the people she will miss the most.

“Bill and I won’t miss the stress of the business,” she said. “It’s seeing everybody every week. We never considered our bowlers customers. They were friends and family.”

Ridgewood will be open today and Saturday as well as Aug. 13, 15, 21 and 22 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for everyone to clean out their bowling lockers.

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