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This article was published 9/11/2018 (435 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Aside from the familiar faces running the show, the new West End iteration of Academy Lanes is nothing like the original.
The River Heights bowling alley, which owner Todd Britton’s family purchased in 1982, was forced to close its doors on Academy Road in April 2017 following a disagreement with the building’s landlord.
Despite the unceremonious end of an era, Britton and his family were determined to find a new space and rebrand. Enter the sprawling, modern entertainment centre that is Uptown Alley at 1301 St. Matthews Avenue.
"I think people are going to be really surprised at what we’re doing here," Britton said. "It doesn’t take long to see that we’ve done a little bit more than just move a business."
Uptown Alley occupies what used to be a retail warehouse that stretches most of the block between Ellice and St. Matthews. Inside, the space has been transformed into a playground for adults and kids alike, complete with 30 five-pin bowling lanes, a 3,000-square-foot laser tag room and an arcade; as well as a bar and full-service restaurant.
Britton — who has worked at the family-owned business his entire life — said while it was hard to say goodbye to the community surrounding Academy Lanes, the old building made it hard to keep up with the times.
"It was difficult when we were seeing new things enter the marketplace and we weren’t able to adapt to that," he said. "There have been some major technological advances and so we took a 30-year leap forward in that regard."
One such advance is the bowling alley’s scoring system, which takes a selfie of players and incorporates the photo into animations between frames. Players can also conference with the front desk via tablets installed on the lanes.
Britton developed the floor plan for Uptown through consultations with bowling centre designers in the United States and local architects. One of the biggest challenges during construction, which started in May last year, was transporting all 30 of Academy’s lanes and pinsetters to the new building.
"It was a huge undertaking to get all that stuff over here," Britton said.
Many of the senior employees at Academy stayed with the company and have been involved in the development and construction of Uptown. General manager Nathan Hogg started working for the company straight out of school two decades ago.
"I’m a huge sap and I thought that I would be crying a lot because I’ve probably spent more time there then at my house over the last 20 years," Hogg said, adding that the transition to the new space has been easier than expected.
"It’s been incredible to see, our first day here we were sweeping the floors of dirt that’s been here for years and now it’s a near complete project… when you look around it’s hard to even think back."
Britton is waiting on a few finishing touches and permits to come through before Uptown Alley is able to open for the public. He is expecting to have a soft opening later in November with a grand opening planned for December. Visit academylanes.ca/uptown-alley for updates.
Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.