"This place is no longer in my heart-it's in my soul," said Rico Perez, who's been working at Clairemont's Sunset Bowl for 15 years. Handing out bowling shoes to customers from behind a neon-lit counter, he talked about the alley's predicament. "We're still making money hand over fist," he said, "but it's the right time with the way the housing market is right now. I'm disappointed that we're closing, but I understand why."
The iconic bowling alley will close its doors at the end of the month.
In a letter dated July 5 and addressed to "league and open bowlers and friends," Sunset Bowl President David Kahn explained that after 50 years in business, the 52-lane bowling alley will be torn down to make way for condominiums. "We have kept the Bowl open for as long as possible but now the time has come for us to comply with my father's last wishes," Kahn wrote. "The building... has served its useful life and the risks of a liquor-related business are not what my father wanted my mother or family to rely upon for income in later life."
Kahn's father, Yale Kahn, who also operated numerous other food, drink and entertainment businesses, opened Sunset Bowl in 1957, and it quickly became a favorite in San Diego.
In his letter, Kahn wrote that his father had made clear upon his death that he "did not want his wife or family to share in the risks that life can suddenly present and he was very specific that his businesses and real estate were to be sold for the highest and best use."
In 1997, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control suspended the alley's liquor license for 45 days for serving alcohol to five minors and allowing two patrons to remain on the premises while intoxicated and "unable to care for their own safety and the safety of others," but it's not clear if that's what Kahn was referring to when he wrote of the risks of a liquor-related business. Also unclear is whether or not the expiration of Sunset Bowl's current liquor license on Aug. 31 of this year-the same day Sunset Bowl officially closes-has anything to do with the alley's closure. Kahn is traveling overseas and was unavailable for comment.
Milton Galik, Sunset Bowl's manager for the last 10 years, said the elder Kahn was referring to liquor regulation in general-he stressed that citations had nothing to do with the closure-and that the reason for the alley's shutting down is purely economic.
"As a bowl, the building has lived its life," Galik said. "We'd have to spend a lot of money to keep this place going."
In his booming voice, Galik expressed his concern for the 40 employees who will lose their jobs and all the faithful bowlers who will be left without their favorite community bowling alley. "There's a lot of people that have been here for a long time," he said, "and they're going to be pretty upset."
He introduced Verta Morrill and Bud Killingsworth, two senior-league bowlers and devoted regulars at Sunset Bowl.
The pair acted like an old married couple teasing each other and finishing each other's sentences, but they're not married-they're just two old bowling buddies who have grown close over the years.
Killingsworth said he'd been going to Sunset Bowl since it opened.
"The atmosphere's real good here," he said.
Morrill chimed in. "The other alleys don't have the sort of senior programs they have here."
"One good thing about bowling," said Killingsworth, "is that old people can do it."
The two took a quick trip down memory lane and tried to come up with the oldest Sunset bowler they knew. "Henry Ripkin," said Killingsworth-"he was 101 when he died."
Killingsworth said senior citizens aren't the only losers in this deal. "Kids are going to lose out, too," he said.
Both said they're very upset about Sunset Bowl's closure. Not even an invite to a free luncheon and bowling day for seniors from an assistant manager at Parkway Bowl in El Cajon could cheer them up.
"We're being cast out," Morrill said. "I think it's a shame. It's very sad."
Killingsworth agreed. "We have enough [condos] around here, but money talks."A goodbye bash will be held at Sunset Bowl, 3093 Clairemont Drive in Clairemont on Saturday, Aug. 27, from 6 to 9 p.m. 619-276-2240.