ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Josh Ens is just as agitated about the price of gasoline as the next guy, but he hopes the timing of the spike in energy costs will help him get things rolling, both literally and figuratively.
On Friday, Sept. 9, Ens will re-open Trail Lanes Bowling Alley, a long-time staple of downtown Hillsboro.
“I think the fact that gasoline is $3 per gallon might actually help get this thing up and running,” Ens said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep people’s entertainment dollars in town so we can keep Hillsboro alive and growing.”
Ens, a 21-year-old native of Hillsboro, is bucking the trend of young adults who are fleeing their hometown in search of wealth in larger cities.
As of Aug. 1, Ens entered into a five-year lease-to-purchase agreement with Ray Funk, the former owner of Trail Lanes.
For now, it’s just a part-time endeavor, but if things progress like Ens hopes, it could soon provide full-time employment.
“I think this town can grow if we get enough activities,” Ens said. “There really isn’t that much to do recreation-wise in Hillsboro, so I think the bowling alley can fill a nice role.
“People won’t have to travel to Wichita or Newton for something to do.”
The idea of working at the bowling alley isn’t foreign to Ens, who has been employed there for the past three years.
“I needed a place to work and I also like to bowl so it was a natural fit,” Ens said. “Ray has taught me a lot about the mechanical parts (of the pin setters) of this business and likes the way I can handle that.”
Ens, a graduate of Wichita’s Northeast Magnet High School, said he hopes his age will help encourage younger adults to return to the sport of bowling.
“There used to be more young people that bowled,” Ens said. “I hope (because) I’m as young as I am, I’ll be able to draw in high school and college aged kids to enjoy this alley.
“I hope my personality will help me because I have big ideas,” he added. “Hopefully those ideas will help me be a success.”
Ens’s efforts to resurrect the once-proud and thriving alley have begun with aesthetic improvements.
“I’ve installed new carpet, put in a new tile floor and I painted the walls and ceiling,” he said. “The whole place looks a lot nicer and cleaner.
“Hopefully people will come in and notice how clean it is and want to come back again,” he added. “It’s looked the same way for 42 years so I think the change will really be a nice addition.”
Ens has also used his mechanical expertise to recondition all the pin-setting machines, getting them in prime working condition for Friday’s opening.
Another welcome addition will actually come in the form of subtraction-smoking and alcohol will no longer be allowed at Trail Lanes.
“Most places have so much smoke you don’t want to go into them, let alone take your kids to them,” he said. “I think this will promote a much better family atmosphere.”
The potential for growth and success is apparent to Ens, who thinks the recent decline of patrons was due to a declining effort of the former owner.
“Ray didn’t ever really struggle financially with the alley,” Ens stated. “He stopped advertising and getting programs running mainly because of his age.
“I still think this place has great potential.”
Ens knows the importance of good league bowling to the success of any alley.
“I really want to get the leagues up and going,” he said. “There hasn’t been anything set up for people of a younger age to bowl and that’s one of the things I’m really going to try to get set up.”
Ens hopes to set up a Sunday afternoon high-school league in addition to getting more patronage by students at Tabor College.
Special promotional nights are also on Ens’s radar.
“I want to have special events like a ’50s night where if people dress up in that era of clothing, they can bowl for $1 per game,” he said. “I just need to find ways to get people in here so they can see how much fun bowling can be and how much fun the fellowship really is.”
Initially, the alley will offer open bowling from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights.
Ens also hopes to utilize Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for senior citizen bowling.
“I want to be open more hours than Ray was, but I still have to set those hours around when people are or aren’t so busy with sports and things like that,” he said. “I think there are a lot of people that really like bowling, and I hope I’ll be able to get them back and start enjoying it again.”
Ens is planning to incorporate a two-hour block of bowling for $7 from 11:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. on the first Saturday of every month.
Regular prices for a game of bowling will be $3 with shoe rental an additional 50 cents.
“This is a lot cheaper than it is in Wichita,” Ens said. “With the price of gas, I think it’s a good bargain.”
As with any sporting activity, Ens hopes people will enjoy items offered at his snack bar.
Initially, the menu will include micro-waveable items, candy and soda pop, but plans include a grill in the not-so-distant future.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to offer bierocks, hamburgers and sandwiches,” he said. “I have some work to do before I can cook much because of health regulations, but I’m working on those things now.”
Ens also would like the alley to be a venue for birthday parties and parties of all occasions.
He encourages area residents to visit Trail Lanes at 121 S. Main, Hillsboro, or to call him at the alley at 620-947-3330 or on his cell at 620-382-5252 for information on hours, activities and leagues.
“Bowling is a lot of fun, and I hope people will come in here and let this alley be where they’re having that fun,” he said. “If people are interested in checking out our leagues or what’s available, I hope they’ll call me.
“I’m anxious to get things rolling.”