WHO: Globe deputy managing editor/features Doug Most and his two children
WHERE: Needham Bowlaway
Bowling is far too unappreciated when it comes to having fun with the kids. How can you not have fun bowling? It’s loud, it’s easy, it’s cheap. And when you can support a tiny, hole-in-the-wall, local business while bowling, well that’s a genuine win-win.
As you look for things to do this winter on a freezing weekend morning, grab another family and head over to Needham Center, where parking is easy to find. Then make your way to the corner of Great Plain Avenue and Chestnut Street, a few feet from Harvey’s Hardware. Look for the bowling pin on the side of the building. That’s Needham Bowlaway. It’s downstairs and it’s a little secret gem.
Inside are eight lanes, but rarely will you wait more than 20 minutes. If you’re looking for big balls, flashing lights, and a menu of munchies while you bowl, this isn’t that. This is small balls, Candlepin bowling, with an easy-to-navigate screen to keep score up above, and that’s it. If your kids need a snack, bring your own or plan accordingly.
They can put up bumpers in the lanes if you have little ones, to make sure they knock some pins down, or keep the bumpers down if your kids can roll ’em straight and you’re trying to raise the next Earl Anthony.
Either way, the bowling is fun. The small balls are easy for the kids to hold and roll, two hands or one. My little guy, Ben, who’s 4, had no problems and actually won our first game before 7-year-old Julia got a little more serious. They especially had fun pushing the numbers to keep score and laughing when somebody got a spare or strike and the screen above went a little bonkers.
The price might seem a little steep at $25 per lane per hour (cheaper during weekday mornings), plus shoe rentals. (Our bill after 90 minutes came to $40.) But for some reason it doesn’t hurt nearly as much knowing you’re supporting a business where the same guy who takes your money is the guy who gets your bowling shoes and who also scoots down the alley when a ball or pin gets stuck. Did I mention “small business”?
Smartly, Needham Bowlaway is big into the lucrative birthday party business, so hopefully that helps them stick around. (It was built in 1917 but disappeared briefly in 2011.) But another way to help it is to just go bowl there.