Bowlers facing a blind alley

WAILUKU – Bowlers are on “pins and needles” because the landowner of the 6-decade-old Maui Bowling Center – the only bowling alley on Maui – has put the property up for sale.

The bowling community has been concerned since seeing a “for sale” sign up on the outside wall of the center a few months ago.

Bowling center General Manager Alvin Kushiyama made clear that the alley was not for sale.

“People are confused and think the bowling alley is for sale, but it’s not the bowling alley, it’s the property,” he said last week.

The Robinson Family Trust, which owns the property, according to county property tax records, could not be reached for comment about the reason the property is for sale. An official with Trust Real Estate Services at First Hawaiian Bank, which is handling the sale, said that he could not comment due to customer confidentiality.

The asking price for the property, which has been on the market for about three years, is $399,000, according to a representative from Malu Realty, the realty company involved in the sale. The representative did not want to be named.

The county’s 2012 property tax assessment of the 14,331-square-foot property and 7,664-square-foot building along Vineyard Street was $742,700.

Kushiyama said that he does not know what will happen to the center if the property is sold and is unaware of any contractual agreements between the bowling center and the current owners.

“Will they buy it and still lease the property to us? I don’t know, I really don’t know,” he said. “I’m just here to provide a place for the bowlers.”

There are 15 bowling leagues that use the 10-lane Maui Bowling Center, two of them are youth leagues. The Maui Interscholastic League also uses the lanes for its high school bowling season.

“It would be the end of bowling on Maui” if something were to happen to the alley, said Joe Balangitao, executive director of the Maui Interscholastic League, on Wednesday.

He was unaware that the property was on the market but added that if the bowling alley was closed about 60 to 80 high school bowlers would be without a sport.

Rodney Carillo, head coach for Central Maui Junior Bowlers, expressed a similar sentiment.

“It would be real disappointing and hurtful for all of the kids participating,” he said Wednesday. “It doesn’t take anyone big or special to play the sport. I’ve got little, skinny, small kids that have done well against all these athletes in Oahu.”

Carillo said he was on “pins and needles” and wants to do something about the possible sale and loss of the bowling alley but does not know what to do. He said that the bowling community is taking it day by day.

“Alvin has always kept the prices low for the kids, but (the loss of the bowling center) is a reality and it can happen . . . and that’s the scary part of it,” he said. “I’m afraid to have my program shut down, and we won’t be able to bowl. It would be a shame if it did.”

There has been talk for years that former Mayor Charmaine Tavares, a longtime league bowler, was leading an effort to build a bowling center with other activities such as pool tables, bumper cars, laser tag and video games in Maui Lani. Attempts to contact Tavares to ask her about the progress of the project were unsuccessful.

The Maui Bowling Center, which has survived for more than 60 years, has seen generations of bowlers, including its current 75-year-old manager. Although Kushiyama has worked on and off at the bowling center his entire life, he started his career as a pin boy.

Before the advent of automatic pin holders and equipment at the lanes in 1961, typically young boys would manually set pins and return bowling balls to players. Kushiyama said he would jump down from a ledge above the pit to reset the pins.

“It was hard work,” he said. “The ball and the pins would hit your leg, and we’d get pissed off. So I used to spit in the ball and send it back. . . . We were young kids.”

Fred Calhau Jr., who also worked as a pin boy and was paid less than a dollar an hour, said that the most important thing was to be awake.

“I had a lot of close calls,” said the 66-year-old retired police officer Wednesday. “Sometimes, the bowlers have heavy balls and throw the ball hard. The pins fly upward, and I’ve seen a couple guys get hit.”

Calhau and Kushiyama said that the popularity of bowling is not what it used to be. Calhau said there are 15 bowling leagues and about 400 bowlers currently, but a decade ago there was double the number of bowlers. He said bowling was really big on Maui and that the center was always full from day to night.

Besides Maui Bowling Center, there was another popular, newer bowling alley, Aloha Lanes on Kaahumanu Avenue below Stillwell’s Bakery & Cafe. It closed about 10 years ago and is currently Central Maui Self Storage.

“I was raised in this bowling alley,” Calhau said of the Maui Bowling Center. “My family was bowling every night.”

Kushiyama, who is one of the dozen shareholders that own the bowling center, said if someone buys the property they hope to communicate with the new owners before any plans are made.

“I think it’s only fair if the owners talk to the bowling alley before they make any decisions,” he said.

Calhau, who was a bowling coach for Maui High School for more than 20 years, said that adult bowlers are not the only bowlers at a loss.

“If we lose the bowling center. . . . it affects the kids, the high school bowlers and the old-timers,” he said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at