Bowling: Old-school Fricke’s still surviving
By Anthony Nasella Post-Tribune correspondent October 15, 2013 10:44PM
Brothers Bill (left) and Bruce Fricke still run six-lane bowling center Fricke's Recreation just north of downtown Crown Point. | Anthony Nasella/For the Star
Updated: November 17, 2013 6:34AM
CROWN POINT — In a town known for as the hub of Lake County, Fricke’s Recreation has been a Crown Point staple since Harold Fricke purchased the building on Grant Street in 1959 and opened it as a bar and six-lane bowling alley.
Through many decades and changes, which included the 1981 fire that destroyed the old facility and the 1982 rebuild by Harold’s son, Bruce, Fricke’s remains a unique slice of Americana and a popular draw for local bowlers who enjoy the old-school environment.
“You don’t see many places like ours around anymore,” said Bruce, a lifelong Crown Point resident. “We have a loyal customer base in the bar and in our leagues — many of who had parents and grandparents as patrons. It has been in the family pretty much my whole life, and this has been my primary job. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of hard work, too.”
Bruce admits, however, that the work has not been as taxing since the economic troubles in recent years had a rippling effect on his business, as well as several other bowling centers.
“We’re probably down 50 percent from five years ago, and it’s still pretty tough,” Bruce said. “We’re still popular and have leagues every night except Friday. When the economy went into the tank (in 2008) is when we really saw a decline in our business.
“We have two or three kitchen employees, three or four bartenders and a janitor, but I don’t push myself too hard because we’re only half as busy as we used to be.”
In its heyday, Fricke’s was especially busy. Before the fire, the lanes were actually where the present bar is. In the rebuild, Bruce reversed them. The wood lanes are the same since 1982, only needing to be sanded and re-surfaced about every three years.
“I just refinished the lanes this past year,” said Bruce, also a high-average bowler who has four career 300 games. “The league bowlers like the fact that we’re one of the rare centers that still have wood lanes.”
Bruce’s brother, Bill, who recently retired as a school teacher at Taft Middle School, said that his teaching job kept him from being more involved with the center. He still bowls in four leagues at Fricke’s and is proud that the facility has remained in the family.
“Bruce was 6 years old when our dad bought the building; he grew up around this place,” Bill said. “It’s very cool to have been her for so long. We’ve pretty much known everybody who has lived in this neighborhood. This business has always been with us; it’s been part of our life.
“It’s changed and, yet, it hasn’t changed at the same time. This place is the only thing that Bruce has known, and he’s kept it in the family. A lot of the young guys who bowl here had grandparents who bowled here.”
Crown Point resident and league member Jim Hultz is one patron whose grandparents bowled at Fricke’s.
“My grandparents first brought me here when I was young kid,” Hultz said. “I’ve had a lot of good times here over the years. My wife and I have bowled in a Saturday mixed league here for 13 years. I don’t think anything has really changed here. This is a timeless place that you don’t see much of anymore. Bruce has kept it the same. The lanes are good shape. They sure aren’t like streets outside.”
With Bruce nearing retirement, however, he’s not sure about the facility’s long-term future. He has a son attending Crown Point High School — the only possible candidate in the family left who might gain an interest in running the business one day.
“I have nobody yet that I could turn the business over to,” he said. “I’m the youngest child, and none of the other grandkids are interested. I’m contemplating what to do for the future. We’re still a unique, hometown business, so hopefully that can still be a draw.”