BEVERLY — Bowling balls will thunder down the Bowl-O-Mat's lanes for the final time on March 20, as the business is set to close.
A staple on River Street for the past 64 years, owner Marie Christopher confirmed the news on Wednesday, as a flurry of speculative comments on social media in recent days questioned whether or not it was true.
River Street Grille, the eatery next door that Marie Christopher also owns, along with her cousin Ted Christopher, will also close at the same time.
Both businesses were founded by brothers Peter and Arthur Christopher, both of whom have since passed away.
The future of the two businesses and property is unknown. While both will shutter their doors in about two weeks, Marie Christopher said she could not disclose publicly what will happen at the sites.
Mayor Mike Cahill said the city has not received word on a pending sale or potential redevelopment there.
Rumors have swirled around the business possibly closing for years. Ted Christopher confirmed the business was staying open back in June 2015, when many thought it was shutting its doors.
"It came as a shock to me," said Richard Gebhardt, an avid bowler. He said he started bowling there at 18; that was 49 years ago.
A member of the Bass Rivers League, Gebhardt bowls once a week at Bowl-O-Mat, down from the three nights a week he used to devote to the sport. There used to be many more teams when bowling was more popular, he said. At one point, there were 12 five-member teams in the area. Now there's six with only four people each.
Gebhardt said he thinks computers and video games have turned interest away from bowling, a decline he's noticed over the past decade.
"You got us diehards down here that don't want to give it up," he said.
The teams have a lengthy history in the city. Bass Rivers, for example, used to be called the United Shoe League, named for the factory that used to stand where the Cummings Center is today on Elliott Street.
In recent times, Bowl-O-Mat shut down about eight lanes since they weren't being used, Gebhardt said, and turned the area into an arcade. Other North Shore bowling alleys have similarly sought to reinvent themselves and branch out beyond just bowling.
The two River Street businesses fall within the area the city is considering rezoning to allow for redevelopment, including new mixed-use residential growth.
The city is working with consultants to develop a Beverly Harbor/Waterfront plan to figure out the best use of the area. The first meeting to discuss that plan is set for 6 p.m. on March 22 in the Beverly High School auditorium.
Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-338-2527 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SN_AMacNeill.