2018-01-21 / Insight

Gerlach’s Bowling Center

More than 1,000 bowlers visit Lapeer alley each week
BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601• npugliese@mihomepaper.com


Cole Fike, a North Branch High School senior and member of the school’s bowling team, tosses a few extra frames during his team’s practice on Thursday afternoon at Gerlach’s Bowling Center in Lapeer. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Cole Fike, a North Branch High School senior and member of the school’s bowling team, tosses a few extra frames during his team’s practice on Thursday afternoon at Gerlach’s Bowling Center in Lapeer. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese LAPEER

— For more than 1,000 people a week in the winter, bowling is more than 10 pins at the end of 60 feet of polished wood. For the bowlers that call Gerlach’s Bowling Center a second home, the opportunity to head to the lanes is an opportunity to reconnect with friends and share an activity that has cemented itself in their lives.

Gerlach’s Bowling Center was once known as Lapeer Recreation and has been in its current location since 1946, established by Bill and Jack Gerlach, and became known by its current name in 1988. The 18-lane bowling alley has been operated by Dan and Vicki Gerlach since 1992. Estimated by Dan and Vicki Gerlach’s daughter, Natalie Pilecki, the center sees more than 1,000 customers each week in the winter and saw nearly 100 people on Christmas Day.

Gerlach’s is home to almost 30 leagues during the peak season of September-April, including all variety of age groups and skill levels, and despite its small size compared to the major bowling centers of big cities, according to Vicki Gerlach, it’s that small town touch that keeps the place going. “Those bigger centers don’t really know their bowlers, we know our customers when they come in,” she said. “They’re like family.”

According to Dan and Vicki Gerlach, while the popularity of bowling as a sport may have diminished somewhat as the decades have rolled by, it’s the social aspect of the activity that keeps people coming through the doors. Bowling’s popularity peaked in the 50s and 60s, said Dan, and he’d see bowlers hitting the lanes multiple times each week, members of three or more different leagues.


Kirsten Mulder is a freshman at North Branch High School and a member of the school’s bowling team. She and her teammates represent the next generation of bowlers in the Lapeer area. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Kirsten Mulder is a freshman at North Branch High School and a member of the school’s bowling team. She and her teammates represent the next generation of bowlers in the Lapeer area. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese There are two major types of bowlers, said Vicki Gerlach. “There’s the people that bowl for the social aspect, the ones that want to come in to have a good time with their friends, and there’s the ones that for them, bowling is for the competitive aspect,” she said, while Dan added that for them, “winning is everything, and losing sucks.”

In the winter, Gerlach’s houses adult leagues every night of the week, and by far, the season is the busiest time of the year. “January through March is the biggest time for open bowl,” said Vicki. “People are tired of staying inside and are looking for something to do, looking for some activity.” While the return of warm weather in the spring usually means many regulars are trading in their bowling ball for golf clubs, the summer still sees plenty of activity.

The key to bowling’s longevity, according to Vicki, is getting the kids interested. “We’ve still got a large league base but as the adults age out of it you have to be able to take their place with the younger generation,” she said. “A lot of the middle-aged bowlers started out as a kid but if they don’t get that exposure as a kid, it’s hard to pick up bowling as an adult.”

Even still, bowling isn’t going anywhere. According to Dan Gerlach, interest in bowling “goes in waves,” with increases in business coinciding with worsening economies as families look for cheap activities close to home. And despite what may be a waning interest in the competitive side of the sport, Vicki Gerlach pointed out that “there’s still kids that aspire to be a pro one day, so that competitive spark is still there.”

And of course, bowling is still an ideal activity to meet friends, enjoy a few root beers and nachos and hang out during a harsh Michigan winter. “There’s always going to be that social aspect,” said Natalie Pileski. “I don’t think bowling will fade away.”

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