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Smithtown bowlers rolling again after alley collapse

The inside of the Smithtown Lanes, a bowling

The inside of the Smithtown Lanes, a bowling alley completed in 1958, according to town records. (Feb. 21, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

It was a second home.

Bowlers referred to AMF Smithtown Lanes as a "house," filled with quirks and family.

When a swath of the alley's roof collapsed on Feb. 10 -- a day after a blizzard dropped 30 inches of snow on some areas -- the news stunned the local bowling community.

"I was devastated; just didn't know what to do," said Andrew Western, 15, of Smithtown, a member of the Smithtown Youth Bowling Association, who practiced at the lanes almost daily. "I was there more than I was at my house."

AMF plans to reopen Smithtown Lanes in four to six months, said Steve Satterwhite, chief operating officer and chief financial officer for AMF Bowling Centers Inc. -- the world's largest bowling center chain, with 262 bowling centers across the United States.

In the meantime, bowlers have to roll strikes elsewhere.

No one was in the 55-year-old bowling alley during the collapse, but about 500 league bowlers and 25 employees temporarily lost their lanes. And word quickly spread about relocating leagues and employees.

"It was constant, every hour, every day, with all of us texting and on the cellphones . . . to try to figure all of this out," said AMF Centereach Lanes general manager Phil Ausset. "The first priority was to take care of both our employees and our customers."

Within about a week, nearly everyone was moved to AMF Centereach Lanes, AMF Commack Vet Lanes or AMF Sayville Lanes. Some leagues changed the day of week or time that they meet. Many said they were happy to continue bowling.

"The building fell down, but we didn't fall apart," said Betty Barbieri, league president of The Forestwood Ladies, welcoming more than 30 members on a recent morning to AMF Commack Lanes.

The league of women, ages 30 to 89, held a belated Valentine's Day celebration, with many ladies dressed in red, packs of Conversation Hearts on tables and festive prizes for those who scored the first strike of a frame.

Lorraine Langan, 61, of Kings Park, said she enjoyed the social and competitive aspects of bowling.

"This is my therapy. This is what I do for myself," she said, before eliciting high-fives and cheers with a strike. "From 2 to 102 [years old], you can bowl. That's what I love about this sport."

AMF Commack accommodated bowlers by honoring prices and providing coffee and bagels for those who received such refreshments at AMF Smithtown, but some missed their old digs.

"It's nice, but it's not as comfortable as the other place," said Carmela Massaro, 86, of St. James, a founding member of the league, which began in 1970. "[Smithtown Lanes] was smaller . . . Commack Lanes is more modern."

Others reflected on memories at AMF Smithtown -- from personal bests and bowling tips offered by the staff, to the nursery where young children were supervised while their parents bowled.

Robert Ciota, 53, of Nesconset, recalled Smithtown's wood lanes -- common in earlier bowling -- that were replaced by synthetic lanes less than two years ago.

"It was one of the last wooden houses on Long Island," he said. "The balls don't hook as much on synthetic lanes as on wood."

The building was stabilized last week, allowing crews to safely inspect the structure. Half of the lanes need repair, Satterwhite said. Carpet, furniture and electronics have also been damaged.

Debris, caused by the loss of a 60- by 108-foot section of roof, will be removed this week, said Steve Sylvester, AMF director of construction. There's no estimated cost of the damage at this point, officials said.

Satterwhite said that two of the 11 roof trusses "failed under the load of the snow."

"The roof literally fell down on half of the lanes," he said. "Our sprinkler system was damaged in the roof collapse, so much of the center was flooded with water from broken pipes until those could be shut off."

Satterwhite said AMF plans to "bring the center back better than it was before. We intend to be part of this community for a long time."

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