The age of the smoke-filled bowling alley has passed, said Michael Dean, general manager of a soon-to-open, 40,000-square-foot bowling center at the corner of Lee Highway and Highway 153.
Pin Strikes, a 24-lane family fun center, will resemble more of a Dave & Buster's than a classic bowling alley and is slated to open Nov. 3, Dean said.
"It'll be like you're walking into a club downtown," he said of the $5 million facility.
Pin Strikes is constructed so that "everything glows" for cosmic bowling, he said, but bowling is just part of the center's offerings.
Martinis and laser tag
Adults will be able to have a martini and watch TV at the attached Splitz Bar & Grill after owners get a permit to serve alcohol, while everyone else can entertain themselves in the two-story laser tag arena, at the bumper car pit, or in a ball-blasting arena called the Balladium.
In the Balladium, two sides are outfitted with stationary foam ball cannons in a brightly lit room, and may choose to fire either at targets or at one another.
"They usually end up just shooting at each other," Dean said.
And of course, there'll be an arcade.
Rising customer numbers
Family entertainment centers such as Pin Strikes represent the latest craze in the long evolution of bowling, a sport that could have originated in either Egypt or Germany 5,000 years ago, and is now played in 90 countries by 95 million people, according to Henry Lewczyk, vice president of marketing for the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America.
While bowling's recent popularity has arisen from movies like "Kingpin" and the "Big Lebowski," he said, the real magic lies with children and young adults, who make up a growing segment of bowlers.
"It's a true growing segment of our industry," he said. "You've got 20 million kids that bowl annually in the U.S.; that's up four years in a row."
But flashy lights and bright colors aren't enough to sustain a business, Dean said.
Pin Strikes prides itself on quality as well, using upscale materials and surfaces. Rather than sitting on hard plastic seats, bowlers recline in soft leather couches. Patrons don't need to walk to the bar and wait on a microwaved hot dog, because servers take orders from customers using a full menu directly at the lane.
Furthermore, two observation decks with Internet access allow parents to have a drink or get work done without bothering their children, he said.
"A lot of places that have stuff for kids to do have nothing for the adults to do, or vice versa," Dean said. "We've got high-end stuff for everybody."
The whole concept of an upscale bowling center originated with a group of five investors who created the original Pin Strikes in Stockbridge, Ga., in 2007, said owner Bob Patel, a hospitality industry veteran.
"This is the same concept as our Atlanta store, it's just a little bit more than what we have in Atlanta," he said.
The Stockbridge location was so successful that he would have opened additional locations had it not been for the recession, he added.
"There are so many bowling centers, but they don't have a family-type environment, so we put a lot of stuff in one center so the entire family can come," he said.
David Ballenberg, general manager at the Pin Strikes in Stockbridge, said the decision to open a store in Chattanooga followed years of market research.
"They found that this would be an excellent location because of the lack of other entertainment options in the area," he said.
Pin Strikes has been successful in Georgia at capturing a portion of corporate event, birthday parties and the family outing business, he said, and he said it will do the same in Chattanooga.
After the Chattanooga store opens, Patel said he will get to work opening a third location in Macon, Ga.
Contact Ellis Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6315. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ellisthered.