Patrick Robinson
Doug Harrell, owner of both Roxbury Lanes, with Roxy's Casino and Magic Lanes was forced by a decline in business at Magic Lanes to close the business on Aug. 1

Magic Lanes closed; Not spared by changes and poor economy

For many people in White Center, Magic Lanes at the corner of 106th s.w. and 15th s.w. is a landmark. Not only for its tall sign but for its place in their lives as where they learned to bowl, hung out with friends, family and co-workers and enjoyed an inexpensive evening out. It opened in 1960.

But changing attitudes, demographics and a poor economy finally took their toll on the once bustling bowling alley. It closed permanently on Monday, Aug.1.

Owner Doug Harrell, who also owns Roxbury Lanes and Roxy's Casino, just over a mile away on Roxbury Street said that conditions over the past year had worsened and it was no longer possible to sustain the business.

He pointed to several factors that led to the closure including changing attitudes about bowling, less discretionary income and changes in how people live.

"If you talk to anybody," said Harrell," and I do this all the time, everybody used to bowl. Do they anymore? Not that many. There's two reasons primarily. It's a change in participation and a change in lifestyle, plus in a lot of cases it's change in land values. It's business." Harrell explained that league bowling, once a mainstay for these businesses has dropped to less than a fourth of what it used to be. "It's a commitment and people don't make commitments anymore."

Harrell pointed out that there are only three bowling centers left inside the Seattle city limits.

The decline for Magic Lanes took a serious turn beginning in 2010.

"It's all been in the last year," Harrell said. "It's a mix of business. When these places were built," in the 1950's, "they weren't allowed to sell alcohol. They weren't allowed to sell pull tabs. There was no such thing as a card room. Bowling built these buildings and provided a great living for families, employed people. Nowadays most of us have a mix of business that allows us to offer bowling is what boils down to."

Harrell and his father bought Magic Lanes from well known bowler Gary Mage in 1982.

Watching the decline in interest and participation in bowling has been difficult.
"For those of us who have been around bowling and lived it, it's sad. There's not as many people coming out and those that are out are spending less money, but I absolutely understand. It isn't pretty and I don't see anything on the horizon that's going to make it better."

At one point Magic Lanes had more than 120 people employed there, but that number dwindled as business declined until early May when he was forced to close the card room and major cutbacks had to be made. Recently the employee count fell to nine. "Closing the card room made everything in the restaurant and bar go down too (...) The intent at that time was to hunker down for summer, the slow season, and normally in the fall it would pick up." As time went on he realized that was not likely and made the decision to close.

That doesn't mean Harrell isn't trying to improve things. He's now expanding the lounge at Roxbury Lanes, improving the seating area and was quick to mention his very well regarded and extensive chinese food menu. "Our chinese food is the best in the area, without question," he said, "very reasonably priced and huge quantities, it's a value and it's awesome."

He mentioned that the things that made bowling popular are still true. "There is not another activity that a family can share multi-generationally like it. You can bring gramma, mom and dad and the kids and have social interaction. There's nothing else like it. If mom and dad want to have a cocktail or go play some cards inexpensively they can do that and still keep an eye on the kids. We have a family facility."

Harrell also pointed out that as a community member they give back. "We do tons for schools, parks and recreation, we give thousands to the Food Bank and Salvation Army every year. We're community. We live here. I'm part of it happily.

Going forward may be somewhat easier with only one bowling establishment in the area.

"We're hoping that by combining them (Magic Lanes and Roxbury Lanes) we can survive here. We've cut back some but the nature of the business is that whether you have one person or thirty in a lounge you need a bartender. You need a cook and a server, you need someone at the front desk and the card room is worse. You have to have a security person and surveillance and management, dealers and a cashier and accountant. All these things have to be there."

The future for Magic Lanes is up in the air at the moment. "The building is for sale or lease I guess," said Harrell, "It costs me many thousands of dollars a year in taxes and insurance. It can't sit there." That means a call to a realtor is coming soon. "It's something I've been procrastinating about...is having that conversation."

"It's tragic. We're talking a couple of million dollars in wages, nearly a million dollars in taxes that we paid to the county and the state." The taxes are something of a sore spot for Harrell since while he understands a payroll tax he has issues with the way a gambling tax is levied. "It's paid on gross so even though I'm losing money they expect me to send them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. It's very unrealistic."

You can read the West Seattle Herald's Ty Swenson's memories of Magic Lanes here.

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