For the past 25 years, Natalie Berry’s life has revolved around bowling.
Berry is the owner of Mid-Town Bowl, the centre of the five-pin universe in Timmins.
In addition to marking a quarter of a century in business, this year Berry has been busy with renovations to the landmark business.
“What’s kept me here are friends who have become family,” she explained. “I’ve owned it on my own since 2000. I had a previous partner and that dissolved. So, I moved forward by myself, with my current husband and I have 14-year-old who absolutely loves it here, of course. It’s a family business. My dad’s a retired mechanic, so he’s here. My mom works for me and my sister cleans for me. It’s important for me to offer bowling as an activity for the community and the kids. I’ve bowled since I was four.”
A lot has changed since Berry took over Mid-Town Bowl.
“Twenty-five years ago, I remember businesses were open 9-5 and they were not open on Sundays,” she said. “A lot of moms didn’t work, and couples would do it (bowl) as a night out, and they used to have three or four kids. Nowadays, two kids if you are lucky. There are so many other things for kids to do. I’ve got a teenager and there are a lot of different activities, which are great for kids. However, today’s technology, a lot of kids are electronically hooked, but so are the younger parents.
“So, it’s a challenge not just to get the kids to want to be mobile, but I got to try and motivate the young parents to try and bring their kids out. Obviously, the decline in bowling is all across Canada, it’s not just here. So, we try to offer different things.”
The family has been busy with renovations, giving Mid-Town Bowl a whole new look and feel. She said the work is about 80 per cent completed.
“We're doing an upgrade now and trying to reinvest and keep everyone interested,” Berry said. “We started thinking about it back in January, February. I’ve very grateful that my husband is doing the bulk of the heavy work.
“We’ve gone for the industrial, rustic look. We’ve kinda gone for the warehousie feel with the grey walls, the brick panelling everywhere, and our seating and bar tops — my husband is very capable — is live-edge wood with industrial piping for legs, which really opens it up because there used to be closed walls. The seats are live-edge wood as well. The seats won’t all be ready for the opening of the leagues.”
As with any renovations, some projects are more challenging than others.
“We took out the carpet that has been here 23 years … the glue that was on that cement floor was unbelievable,” she said. “We now have an epoxy floor, which is easy to cleanup. We’ve changed the look of the whole place.”
Mid-Town Bowl is more than just a place of business.
Berry believes in community and strongly feels it is important to give back.
Mid-Town has helped host fundraisers for community groups, sports, hockey dance, the humane society and seriously ill children, to name a few.
“We try to help where we can,” she said.
Youth bowling starts this Saturday, and parents are encouraged to sign up their kids.
“They start at age three, all the way to 19,” Berry said. “Every year we get a few three-year-olds, which is good. This gets the kids involved. There are tournaments, trophies, all kinds of incentives.
“I have a huge volunteer base, I’m very lucky to have them. Part of that is they run the youth bowling bingo, so they donate a lot towards the kids whether it’s shirts, trophies, travelling to tournaments.”
There are a variety of adult leagues for various age groups in men’s, women’s and mixed leagues.
“I know the ones who have bowled all the time, they are still in there, which is good and I appreciate it. But we’re always looking for new blood,” she said. “We have to try to bring the young people up to keep it going. August and September (league and youth registration) always dictates what kind of year we’re having because that (leagues) is guaranteed income and helps pay the bills at the end of the day.”
For newbies to the sport, Berry encourages people to just come and try a couple of games. Staff will do their best to help beginners.
“Any evening is good. I’m here almost every evening. Some of my staff have been here a long time too,” she said. “We’ll give pointers. When kids come, we’ll help them out, give them a few pointers to get them going and build their confidence.
“Sometimes they feel they are not good enough to join (league play). Some of the leagues have handicaps, so you don’t have to be good. It’s as easy as leaving a message on our answering machine, we’ll call you back and find a league that’s right for that person.”
Long-time bowlers keep coming back and help to create a sense of community at Mid-Town Bowl.
“My biggest league is the 55 and over league,” Berry said. “There’s almost 100 of them that bowl every week. It’s nice to see. I’ve been here 25 years and some of them have bowled longer than that.
“My customers are more than my customers. I’ve made so many friends. I have customers that, in the summer, bring me tomatoes from their garden. It’s part of who I am. Almost all of my adulthood has been spent here.”
Mid-Town Bowl is located at 70 Algonquin Blvd. W. in Timmins.
For information about youth and adult league play, or about trying out the sport for the first time, you can call 705-267-3500. It is open Sunday to Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., Friday from noon to midnight, and Saturday from noon to 1 a.m.