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Vancouver Island bowling alley may be nearing its final frame

Nanaimo’s Brechin Lanes bowling alley up for sale, unlikely to continue
Ray Brittain, owner of Brechin Lanes, is in the process of selling the East Wellington Road property. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo’s five-pin bowling centre is on the market, and a sale could be imminent.

Brechin Lanes, which has been at its East Wellington Road location since the 1970s, is for sale, an offer has been accepted, and the transaction is now in the due diligence phase. The real estate listing notes that the 0.4-hectare property and 13,000-square-foot building are for sale for $3.4 million.

Owner Ray Brittain said the costs of doing business nowadays have gotten to be more than he and his family are comfortable with. Property taxes, insurance, wages and building maintenance, including looming repairs, are costs that are only going up.

“So I’ve just taken the pragmatic and the proactive approach, rather than letting the business and the building become decrepit…” he said. “At this point it’s a very black-and-white decision.”

If a sale goes through for the land and building only, Brittain will be able to sell the bowling equipment separately, conceivably to a local buyer, though he acknowledges that new five-pin bowling centres aren’t really starting up anywhere these days. He said when Brechin Lanes was put up for sale, he and his family hoped for a buyer who would keep it as a bowling alley.

“But the more time that goes by, the more we realize that if somebody wants to run it as a bowling centre, they’re probably going to have the same challenges that we have,” Brittain said.

As recently as a year ago, he was considering significant renovations to Brechin Lanes that would have added an arcade and more, but ultimately decided that the renos weren’t the right financial decision. Times are hard for a “mom-and-pop” business, he said, especially so for a five-pin centre that faces competition from another bowling alley in town. Even though Brechin Lanes has had one of its best-ever years business-wise in 2023-24, Brittain knows the annual summer slowdown is approaching.

“The bowlers are disappointed which is totally fair, but they see what they see when they come in and they don’t peek behind the curtain and see all of the costs and the stress involved with running it,” he said.

Brechin Lanes was initially built on Waddington Road by Roy Robertson in 1956, with six lanes, employing pin boys to reset the pins each frame. Ray’s father John Brittain bought the business in 1967 and in 1969 he put in automatic pin-setting machines, which were brought to the East Wellington Road location when it opened in 1978 and are still in use today.

Ray and his wife Tianna have owned the bowling centre since 2002. Ray said he knew he was buying himself a job at the time, and took on bookkeeping, marketing, maintenance and customer service.

“It was a lot of time away from the family, but it was nice that my family did help out,” he said. “It’s hard because my kids have been brought up here and they won’t get that same opportunity with their own kids.”

He’s proud of all that Brechin Lanes has been able to do, estimating that thousands of birthdays have been celebrated there. The centre has been a first job for a lot of people in Nanaimo, and the business has brought economic impact and has given back to the community. The youth bowling program is the largest in B.C., Ray said, and the Special Olympics program is one of the largest. Athletes have excelled in league play and at youth provincials and nationals, and the multiple perfect games over the years prove that the lanes are well-kept.

Ray said he’s been asked quite a few times what he plans to do next, but said it’s hard to come up with a plan until the sale is a done deal.

“I’m not doing it because I’m keen on retiring,” he said. “It wasn’t really the plan to sell, it’s just become evident that that’s what we need to do.”

READ ALSO: Bowler first woman to score a five-pin perfect game in Nanaimo

About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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