Friday, September 27, 2013

Bowlinged Over: Counter Evolution puts some old alleys to good use

The two coolest old bowling alleys I’ve ever seen were both in Maine.

One was on Kezar Lake, in a cottage enclave on the grounds of what was once the summer retreat site of the Diamond Match Company. The enclave had a clubhouse that featured an old-timey bowling alley with a couple of wobbly old wooden lanes. Way cool.

The other was in Boothbay Harbor, and was an altogether excellent little bowling alley – I’m pretty sure it was candlepin, to boot (this is, after all, New England). This alley was so quaint I almost expected to see a group of keglers straight out of Rip Van Winkle rolling away. How excellent was this bowling alley? It even had unscreened wooden-shuttered windows that opened out onto the street so you could stick your head in and catch the action.

I didn’t bowl at either alley. (My husband and niece did at the latter, however.)

Then, again, I’ve never been much of a bowler.

I’ve been bowling on occasion, but it’s not something that I grew up with.

No one I knew went bowling, placing it pretty much in the category of pogo sticks and pinball machines: you knew they existed, but that was about it.

I don’t know if either the Kezar or Boothbay Harbor alleys are still standing, but if they’re on their way out, Jim Malone of Counter Evolution can put those old wooden alleys to good use.

He takes wood from old bowling lanes and turns it into tables, chairs and benches.

His Brooklyn-based CounterEvolution makes pieces that can be found as the counters and tabletops of restaurants and coffee shops in New York and around the country. (Source: WSJ.)

Malone didn’t start out in the bowling alley conversion business. He was a singer-songwriter and, later, worked “as the voice director for the English-dubbed version of "Pokemon" and other anime shows.” (Why is everyone else’s résumé is always so much more interesting than mine? I do have combat boot polisher and Durgin-Park waitress on the long-form, but still…)

But Malone seen his opportunities and he took ‘em.

Those opportunities included the general decline of the bowling industry – as in Bowling Alone – and the particular demise of the wooden bowling alley, which have been almost fully replaced by synthetic materials.

As lanes have closed, demolition crews and lumber companies have sought out CounterEvolution and others to find new uses for the bowling-alley wood.

“I may not compost, but I'm definitely doing something that has a positive impact on the environment," said Mr. Malone.

The designs are not in the least bit hokey – no legskingpindining-2 made out of bowling pins. The table pictured here (the Kingpin) is quite lovely.

Much of his work is done for commercial customers: the salad chain Sweetgreen, Shake Shack, and Starbucks. The Starbucks in Davis Square, Cambridge, has a testimonial on the Counter Evolution site,. I’ll have to stop in and check it out next time I’m in Davis Square.

Malone doesn’t just repurpose bowling alleys, but reclaims wood from other tear-downs, as well.

He’s making his furniture in Brooklyn, and will be opening a retail outlet in Manhattan later this year. His mission, by the way, isn’t to become some green fanatic, where anything goes as long as it’s green (i.e., ignore the aesthetic and defy people to have the audacity to declare something ugly if it’s eco-friendly). Malone mostly wants to make things that are beautiful and functional.

He’s also doing something that gladdens the hearts of owners of defunct bowling alleys.

Dave Mitcheltree, whose family owned a 32-lane bowling center in South Chicago Heights, Ill., lost AMF as a tenant amid the company's bankruptcy proceeding and had a hard time finding someone else to run the business. He connected with Mr. Malone and agreed to saw up about 1,300 square feet of the heart pine, load it onto a flatbed truck and send it to Brooklyn.

"The idea that it is going to be used in furniture just makes me feel good," Mr. Mitcheltree said.

If I knew Jim Malone were going to be making something out of that bowling alley from Boothbay Harbor, I might be tempted to start saving up. We could use a new coffee table.

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