Despite doubters in early days, Zelger brothers celebrate 40 years as Lion Bowl owners

BARRY SPARKS
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The Zelger brothers are, from left, Dave, Mike and Tim. They are celebrating 40 years as owners of Lion Bowl.

Earlier this summer, the Zelger brothers, Mike, Dave and Tim, celebrated 40 years as owners of Lion Bowl, a 12-lane center on Martin Street in Red Lion.

Mike, 62, and Dave, 61, worked at the center part-time before becoming owners. Tim, 55, joined them after he graduated from high school.

 “Dean Houser and Clase Heaps, who owned the center, asked me and Dave if we would be interested in purchasing the center," Mike said. "We were just two young kids (ages 22 and 21) and had never thought about that possibility."

The Zelgers negotiated a sales agreement to purchase the center. Their mother put up her home as collateral.

"A lot of people didn't think we would succeed," Mike said. "But we had to. We couldn't let our mother lose her house. Dave and I ate, slept and breathed Lion Bowl to make it work. Tim also worked here while he was in high school."

Heaps served as their mentor, giving them advice, schooling them in bowling center management and emphasizing the importance of customer service.

Over the years, the Zelgers created a family atmosphere, where, like “Cheers,” everyone knows your name.

"We bowl with our customers," Dave said. "If they have a problem or a concern, it's very easy for them to talk to us. It's more like we are all friends."

"Lion Bowl is like a small country church, instead of a mega church like some of the larger centers," Tim said.

"The Zelgers are very personable," said Chris Lakatosh, who has bowled at the center for more than 30 years. "They literally know everyone at Lion Bowl. It's a special place, and there's nowhere else I would rather go. The Zelgers are the reason I keep coming back."

Hall of famers with different personalities: The Zelgers' genuine love of bowling is also felt by their customers. The brothers, all of whom are members of the York-Adams United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame, have helped countless bowlers improve their game. 

Each of the Zelgers has his own personality, and that's an asset.

"We respond to different people in different ways," Dave said. "Odds are that one of us will be the right person to deal with a certain situation or customer." 

Lion Bowl is the only 12-lane center remaining in York County. Like all smaller centers, it has its challenges. Some of those challenges, however, are lessened because each of the Zelgers has a full-time job and the center is not their main source of income.

"It's difficult for the smaller centers to keep up with the larger centers, but I think we have done a good job," Mike said. "Over the years, we've upgraded our automatic scoring, added synthetic lanes and installed projection screens."

Optimistic about future: Looking ahead, the Zelgers are excited about the future. Two of the main reasons are the possibility of bowling becoming a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association sport and the addition of Scrubby's Craft Brewery and Taproom.

For the past several years, the Zelgers have worked with other York County bowling proprietors to establish bowling as a club sport at a number of area high schools, with the goal of becoming sanctioned by the PIAA.

"High school bowling is exploding across the country," Mike said. "Being a PIAA-sanctioned sport would be a great shot in the arm. Young bowlers are the future of the sport."

Scrubby's Craft Brewery and Taproom opened in Lion Bowl at the beginning of July and has been well received, the Zelgers said..

"Scrubby's is definitely bringing new people to Lion Bowl," Tim said. "They are coming to relax, enjoy food and beverage and some of them bowl afterwards. It's been a fantastic addition. It should do really well during league bowling season."

Reflecting on 40 years of ownership, Mike said: "Anytime a family business reaches the 40-year milestone, it's quite an accomplishment. I think it says we have been doing a lot of things the right way. I hope we will be able to reach the 50-year milestone."

Reach Barry Sparks at sports@yorkdispatch.com.