They grew up accustomed to hard work and the weight of a bowling ball. For decades, they shouldered the responsibilities of running a business started by their father, a pro bowler. Now the owners of Glacier Lanes are saying goodbye “with heavy hearts.”
Steve and Larry Miller, brothers and co-owners of the south Everett bowling center at 9630 Evergreen Way, announced last week they’re discontinuing the business. Citing lack of income caused by the coronavirus-related closure, ongoing expenses and uncertainty over when the state mandate might be lifted, the Miller family posted the news on social media Monday and on the Glacier Lanes website.
Silence is rare at a bowling alley, but the place was all too quiet Friday — no balls rolling down smooth lanes, knocking down pins with that unmistakable crack.
“It costs a lot to operate a bowling center,” said Steve Miller, 65, who also bowled professionally. He’s officially been in the business since the mid-1970s when, at age 19, he bought Twin City Lanes in Stanwood. His sister, Miram Shadle, runs that business today.
Through the years, their father, Ernie Miller, bought and operated many bowling alleys around the region. Steve Miller has childhood memories of emptying ashtrays, sweeping floors and fetching take-out pizza when his dad ran Broadway Bowling and Billiards on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
“He was a pro bowler, he made it to TV,” Steve Miller said of his father, who died of a brain aneurysm while at work at Glacier Lanes in 1999. “Every Saturday he was on television when I was a child. Dad and I bowled nationals for years. My son Jeremy and I bowled nationals,” he recalled.
“It’s with heavy hearts that we have to call it quits after 63 years serving the public,” the Miller family said in the Facebook post. “The COVID-19 pandemic claimed perhaps one of the icons of entertainment in Snohomish County,” they wrote, also outlining how they’d remodeled to comply with safety and sanitation guidelines while holding out hope for a reopening date that hasn’t come.
On July 28, Gov. Jay Inslee announced adjustments to the state’s “Safe Start” plan. Effective July 30, the revised plan prohibited the opening of indoor recreation centers, including bowling alleys — which now must await Phase 4. Previously, bowling was to start once counties reached Phase 3. Snohomish County is now in Phase 2.
In June, expecting a Phase 3 opening, the Washington State Bowling Proprietors’ Association released a statement listing safety protocols its members — some 85 bowling centers statewide — committed to and submitted to the governor.
“We reopened our restaurant July 1. We thought we were right on top of Phase 3,” Steve Miller said. “We’re a bowling center with a restaurant and lounge, not a restaurant and lounge with bowling. Without bowling, the other parts just don’t go.”
This weekend, “Bring Back Bowling” rallies were planned at nearly 20 sites around the state. One rally was to be held Saturday afternoon at Everett’s Evergreen Lanes — also once owned by Ernie Miller. Bowling enthusiasts seeking an immediate reopening scheduled their rallies for Aug. 8. In better times, National Go Bowling Day was observed on that date.
Bowling alley owners “have taken extraordinary measures to prepare their centers for bowlers to return to the lanes,” said Gregory Olsen, executive director of the proprietors’ group, in a statement announcing the rallies.
Vickie Pederson, who was featured in a 2019 Herald article about a family of top bowlers at Glacier Lanes, said Thursday she planned to attend Saturday’s rally. Saddened by news of the Glacier Lanes closure, she said “it’s a wonderful business.”
“Glacier was a family-run place. We are all very, very saddened,” said Pederson, whose brother-in-law, Gordy Cea, operated Everett’s Tyee Lanes from 1984 to 2005. A fixture on north Broadway since 1957, the Tyee property became part of Everett Community College.
It was 1989 when the Miller family took over Glacier Lanes, which Steve Miller said has been in operation for more than 60 years. Miller, who said Glacier’s 10 employees were told of the closure last week, wants the public to know “we didn’t go bankrupt, we’re not broke.”
“My brother and I are in our 60s,” he said, adding that Larry Miller has had a heart condition. “We could do it, but we don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
There’s a treasure trove of history in Glacier’s trophy case, including a photo of a young and bespectacled Ernie Miller set to release his ball. In 2000, posthumously, he was admitted into the Snohomish County USBC (United States Bowling Congress) Hall of Fame. As a young man, in 1943, he set a record in pin-setting, by hand, for 200 games in one day.
Steve Miller has run the Glacier Lanes pro shop, and intends to keep on custom drilling bowling balls.
Since learning Glacier Lanes was closing permanently, more than 1,000 well-wishers have expressed thanks and sadness on social media.
“I often wonder if Tyee would’ve made it through this,” wrote Jeana Cea, a member of the family that operated the north Everett bowling alley that closed in 2005. Wishing the Millers “the best in your future endeavors,” she added on Facebook: “It’s amazing how your employees and customers become your family and what a hard decision on you and your family this must have been.”
Steve Miller doesn’t know if the Glacier Lanes site will continue as a bowling venue. He said it will be sold.
“We want bowling to succeed,” he said. And thinking of what might have been, Miller added, “we were having one of our best years ever.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.