Fort Lanes is more than a bowling alley to Marsha Raper.
It’s where she met her late husband. It’s where she bowled a 277 — just a few pins shy of perfection. It’s where she has worked for 39 years, watching three generations roll strikes and gutter balls.
Now she’s helping close the doors of the Fort Oglethorpe landmark after its corporate parent, AMF Bowling Centers, said it isn’t making enough money.
“I’ve joked that when I die they should put my ashes on the counter, then over on the snack bar, and just move me around in here,” Mrs. Raper, 69, said with tears in her eyes. “It isn’t going to happen now, so I don’t know what they’ll do with me.”
Mrs. Raper is going to get in one last game before Fort Lanes closes May 25. She was forced to stop playing in 2003 because of her health, but she ate a plate of apples for lunch last week as she prepares to defy her doctor’s orders.
“I don’t know if I can still pick up the ball, but we’ll see,” she said.
The bowling alley was opened as Pop’s Lanes in 1960 by carpet mill owner Pop Croft and later became known as Park Lanes before changing to Fort Lanes. It is on LaFayette Road near the Battlefield Parkway intersection.
Its owner, bowling giant AMF, is a Richmond, Va.-based company with 300 bowling centers throughout the country, including Tri-State Lanes in East Ridge, Tenn.
There are seven full-time and six part-time workers at Fort Lanes, said general manager Tony Carden. He said most of the employees will take jobs at the East Ridge bowling center.
Mr. Carden said Fort Lane’s synthetic lanes will also replace the wooden lanes in East Ridge.
He said Fort Lanes’ closure is “purely a financial decision” by its corporate owners.
Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Ronnie Cobb isn’t ready to call this the city’s last frame. He is working with the building’s owners to recruit another bowling company to move into the building.
“I’m getting a lot of backlash from people wanting me to actively get another bowling center in there. And that would suit me just fine,” said Mr. Cobb, who bowled there as a high school student in the early 1960s and now in a church league.
“I’m not at all satisfied that (Fort Lanes) is losing money. The flow through the gate has been there,” the mayor said. “It seems like there are always people there bowling.”
Mrs. Raper hasn’t committed yet to taking a job in East Ridge. She would likely be back at the Fort Oglethorpe bowling alley if a new company takes over ownership.
“I’ve got to have some place to put my urn,” she said.