Have you ever felt your heart leap with joy as you bowled a strike or sink as you watched your ball drift into the gutter at Red Crown Bowling?
Many in the area share fond memories of the beloved alley, including siblings Jennie and Brendan O’Neill.
“They’d load us into a van every week and take us over there for bowling gym class,”
said Brendon, with a laugh, recalling his high school years at Bishop McDevitt.
Later, as an adult, he went there about once a week with friends and became acquainted with the Kirkpatrick family, who owned the business, and this is where the story took an unexpected twist.
In March, the Kirkpatricks decided to close after 37 years.
The news was bittersweet. Red Crown has a long history in Harrisburg, and many were sad to see it go. But a neighboring business, looking to expand, met their asking price, and retirement became a reality for one generation and a nest egg for the next.
Brendan shared the news with Jennie and her husband, Terry Hanley, who co-own Knead Pizza at the Broad Street Market. They knew the burger chain, Shake Shack, had a practice of buying up old bowling alley lanes to repurpose into tables, which got their collective wheels turning about doing something similar here.
After some back and forth with the Kirkpatricks, they settled on $1 per square foot for 2,000 square feet of wood from the approaches (the part of the bowling alley where you stand to bowl). They then approached Broad Street Market Manager Beth Taylor about building custom tables, which they would donate part and parcel, tongue and groove.
At the time, the market’s seating was composed of a hodgepodge of plastic tables and chairs, many dating back to the ‘90s. While they had held up admirably, it was an offer Taylor could not refuse.
“It’s such a touching gift,” she said, getting a little emotional. “Jennie, Terry and Brendan donated their time, efforts and money to make this happen for the market.”
Jennie shrugged, smiling.
“We like the opportunity to do projects like this,” she said. “The market needs this. The opportunity came along, and it worked out perfectly.”
Work of Art
The process was far from easy.
While $1 per square foot is quite a deal for wood like this, the catch was that they had to do their own removal. The floorboards were intimidatingly thick, designed to withstand the weight of your average bowling ball.
Jennie, Terry and Brendan had to use a combination of a johni-bar (a giant pry bar, essentially), circular saw and a reciprocating saw to pry up and remove the wood. Brendan estimates that they went through $400 to 500 in circular saw blades alone, thanks to the thickness coupled with countless nails riddled throughout the floor construction.
The excavation process complete, they stored the wood in Jennie and Brendan’s dad’s garage, and Brendan set about the process of cutting and sanding tabletops. Eventually, they ended up with dozens of tables, which were sealed and finished by Oak Park Cabinetry. Extra wood went to Zeroday Brewing Co.’s stand at the market, which used it to create a gleaming bar top.
The finished tables bear a robust, smooth appearance that shows off the layers of hardwood, each table its own distinct work of art. On some, there are subtle gouges in the wood where nails used to be, while contrasting wood inlay characteristic of a bowling alley floor remains visible on others.
Some of the tables are low, four-tops for sitting, while others are four-person high-tops, perfect for leaning against as you wolf down your latest culinary discovery from the market’s many vendors. Jennie estimates that, when refinishing is eventually needed, the tables have at least five good sandings in them.
On a practical level, Taylor explained that the tables are “not only a way to elevate the aesthetic of the market, but also to maximize seating.”
In fact, the project ended up adding more than 30 seats in the stone building alone, and, in another area, it doubled the number of seats from 12 to 24. The tables are now located throughout the brick and stone buildings, which adds a cohesive warmth throughout the market.
At a deeper level, Taylor stressed that the tables represent much more than just a place to eat for hungry visitors. She described the community of vendors that has blossomed throughout the market.
“The gift of the tables is emblematic of this,” she said. “The fact that Jennie, Brendan and Terry would take so much time and effort—it’s a gift to generations and exemplifies the community spirit that exists in this market.”
Thinking of the long game, Taylor sees rich potential in the gesture.
“If the spirit of the market is inspiring people to contribute and get involved in their community, that’s above and beyond us just providing food for people,” she said, smiling warmly as she gazed across the expanse of tables in the stone building.
Brendan added a kind point of clarification.
“We’re donating them,” he said. “But we’re making our lives better.”
The tables add another chapter to Harrisburg’s modern history. As one business closes its doors, a second chapter begins at the Broad Street Market.
The Broad Street Market is located at N. 3rd and Verbeke streets in Harrisburg.