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    Friday, September 29, 2023

    Groton bowling alley now under local ownership

    Bella Smollen, visiting from Maryland, bowls with her family Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, at the Groton Bowling Center. Richard and Bethany Hurne have taken over operation of Spare Time and rebranded it as Groton Bowling Center. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Groton — Rich and Bethany Hurne are pumping the brakes on their ownership of Rich's Service Center at Five Corners, as they shift from starters and steering wheels to strikes and spares.

    They purchased Spare Time Groton for $3.5 million at the end of August, bringing the 32-lane bowling alley from corporate ownership into the hands of two Groton residents who respectively grew up in Montville and Norwich.

    The Hurnes rebranded the alley as Groton Bowling Center and held a grand opening celebration Oct. 26. This included "trunk or treat" in the parking lot, free bowling for kids with the donation of a nonperishable food item, and a 21+ Halloween costume party and contest in the bar.

    The Hurnes also have put the highly regarded Rich's Service Center, which they opened eight years ago, on the market for $599,000.

    But Rich is adamant, "We are not closing it. We will not shut it down. We will run it until it sells." That means that Rich and Bethany, who are 43 and 37, are working about 70 to 80 hours a week between the service center and bowling alley.

    It's been a learning curve, with Bethany noting that managing a staff of 22 involves leaning on others a lot more than with just two employees.

    Rich said one reason for buying the bowling alley is that after 25 years in the car business, he has a bad back and bad hips, so he wanted out. Spare Time Groton wasn't even for sale, but the Hurnes started talking to Bowl New England last August.

    Even without the Groton location, the Vermont-based Bowl New England still operates 16 bowling alleys under the name Spare Time Entertainment. This includes three in Connecticut, and others in Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama, according to its website.

    It took a full year — one that involved multiple lawyers, financial consultants and lending institutions, Rich said — to close the deal.

    Despite rumors that Electric Boat was going to buy the land for parking or office space, Rich said he was told there were no other offers on the table.

    The bowling alley also held a special place in the Hurnes' hearts, as Rich's late brother was an avid bowler who "spent many years working and a lot of free time at Bowl New England in Groton," his obituary reads. Scott "Scotty" Hurne Jr. died in 2016 at age 30.

    Bethany said at one point, Scotty said he wanted to own the place. The new sign for Groton Bowling Center features a silhouette of Scotty.

    "He had a very unique way of bowling, that anybody who knew him could see the picture of the back of him and know that was him," Rich said.

    Along with the new name and sign, the Hurnes renamed the bar from City Sports Grille to 808 Bar & Grill. The number is the area code for Hawaii, and Rich commented, "We are absolutely in love with Hawaii. We got married there. Someday, we're going to retire there."

    But even when that day comes, the Hurnes want to keep the bowling alley in the family.

    Rich said there's fortunately not much structural work that needs to be done at Groton Bowling Center, as a major remodel in 2015 included work on the roof, lanes and bar.

    Bethany said their upcoming goals include ramping up advertising, adding more live entertainment, offering lunch service, bringing a school program back and increasing the number of tournaments, working with the bowling alleys in Norwich and Westerly.

    She said they will continue to welcome the 19 leagues that bowl there weekly "with open arms," and continue birthday parties and corporate events.

    The operation of both Rich's Service Center and Groton Bowling Center hasn't left time for the Hurnes to continue operation of The Hurne Estate, the wedding and event venue they were running on their four-acre home on Thomas Road. But Rich said they may revisit the endeavor at some point in the future, after the auto shop sells.


    Richard and Bethany Hurne, owners of Rich's Service Center in Groton, have taken over operation of Spare Time and rebranded it as Groton Bowling Center. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Jim Smollen, center, of Niantic reacts to almost throwing a strike as his son James, left, looks on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, at the Groton Bowling Center. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Business Snapshot

    Business: Groton Bowling Center

    Where: 27 Kings Highway, Groton

    Owners: Rich and Bethany Hurne

    Hours: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to midnight Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday through Saturday

    More information: (860) 445-6500

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