by Reigh Roelofs
My mentor and friend for 45 years. Chuck was born in Ohio on November 1, 1940. When he was a young child his family moved to Torrance, California.
As a child he grew up with a variety of life choices that could lead him down different paths.
While going to school he worked part time jobs, once as a furniture mover, somewhere else he learned how to work on cars because after he learned to drive, he built a 4-cylinder rail that he raced at Lions Drag Strip. Some of the classes he took were to help him become an accountant.
He always said he was good with numbers. After graduating he got a job as an accountant but quit after about 2 weeks because it was too boring “just working with numbers!” Chuck was a people person and liked to socialize with anyone around.
Chuck’s father was a tree topper for the City of Torrance and talked Chuck into getting a job with Street Maintenance. He didn’t stay with that very long either because he described it as one man works while three supervise. Another part time job Chuck tried and actually liked was working in a machine shop, this is where Chucks path in life changed.
Chuck’s father had a friend from back east who moved to Southern California to open a business and make a good living for himself. That friend was Burt Bach. The machine shop Chuck worked in was Burt’s.
Chuck once told me that Burt was 6th man on one of the fabled beer sponsored teams in the 1950’s. Burt was an exceptionally good bowler. In 1958 Burt decided to open a free-standing bowling pro shop. Bach’s Bowling Supply is where Chuck first learned how to drill a bowling ball. Burt, with his machinist’s background came out with the Bach oval thumb hole and later Bach’s Master Grips, soft rubber inserts for better lift on the fingers and grip on the thumb. You need a milling machine to drill the oval thumb hole and a key cutter to install the grips as they have a lock ring and do not need glue to stay in.
After working for Burt for a number of years and even helping expand the business by opening a second shop, Chuck needed to make more money than Burt was paying because he had married his sweetheart Karen and was raising a family.
Chuck changed life paths and got a job as a foreman at U.S Steel. For a while everything went well. Then the company decided to close the steel plant in Southern California.
They offered Chuck a similar position in a plant back east, but Karen did not want to move back there. So, Chuck asked Burt about getting back into the pro shop business.
Burt had hired Gary Wilson and Bill McCallister to work at the new shop, while he and Bill Doland held down the fort at the original store. Burt recommended that Chuck open his own shop in the San Fernando Valley. Burt wanted Chuck’s shop at least 30 miles away so it would have less impact on the business of Burt’s shops, and Chuck knew the wisdom of being able to feature the Bach Oval Thumb hole.
Chuck’s life path came back to Bowling when he scouted locations in the San Fernando Valley and spotted a vacancy sign in a building on Sherman Way between Corbin and Quartz avenue VALLEY BOWLING SUPPLY located at 19745 Sherman Way Canoga Park; California opened for business March 15,1973. At that time there were at least 18 thriving bowling centers in the valley with 6 more just a short drive away.
I first met Chuck in his shop on Sherman Way when I brought in a caramel Colombia White Dot that I had purchased from Gary Wilson at Bach’s Bowling Supply in Torrance to have the thumb hole re drilled because I still was not coming out as clean as I’d have liked to. I would have taken it back to Gary, but he moved to Kent, Washington to open a wholesale Bowling Supply Complete Bowling Service. I liked the result of the redrill and became a loyal customer. That was the Summer of 1975.
Chucks shop was getting busy and he was looking for part time help and hired me in April of 1976 and after a while started teaching me to drill balls I had some automotive machine shop experience as well as some instruction at body and fender work at a trade school so working on bowling balls with a Bridgeport milling machine and using orbital sanders was easy. The hard part was learning to fit properly.
I learned the right way (Chuck’s way!) and by Summer of 1979 Chuck’s confidence in my abilities led to us opening a freestanding pro shop in Thousand Oaks on Thousand Oaks Blvd. We had heard rumors that Brunswick wanted to open a new center in Newbury Park and Chuck thought that a shop in Thousand Oaks. Would help all the customers coming from Ventura, Simi Valley and the areas surrounding Thousand Oaks.
He also thought it might ease the workload at the shop on Sherman Way. After a couple of years in Thousand Oaks we looked at the books and determined the shop was paying my wages and the rent and even making a little profit, but the shop on Sherman Way was getting too busy for Chuck to handle by himself so we closed the shop in Thousand Oaks. The summer of 1981 and I returned to give Chuck a hand.
The shop on Sherman Way was about 1400 square feet and by 1983 we were climbing over stock to get to the customers. That’s what it felt like anyway. We needed more room, in late Spring of 1984 the lady who ran the dance studio next door moved out of the double wide space she was renting. Chuck talked to the landlord and we moved right next door to 19747 and 19749 Sherman Way. It was eye opening to see two guys move the Bridgeport milling machine next door. Chuck bought a second milling machine to use as backup to the Bridgeport. We had two ball spinners, two sanding boxes, and a twenty-foot stub lane with a working ball return (gravity).
Chuck built a huge storage area for balls and shoes. Covered with pegboard to hang all the bags on. He also built a ball display unit that held 54 balls (all the models and colors being made at the time) with a fitting bench at one end.
He did all this while in a wheelchair after breaking his ankle while playing volleyball at a family gathering. We now had about 2800 square feet to work in.
Our best years were the middle 80’s but Chuck was always trying to improve business and help customers. If you wanted to carry more than one ball you had a choice of a double suitcase bag or a double tote bag. If you wanted to go first class, you’d get a Colonel Double Bag made out of Naugahyde covered with clear plastic. You still had to carry it.
Robby Robinson came out with a wheeled bag called the Stacker. A single T handle with about a 12-inch wheelbase. Good idea, but Chuck thought he could make one better.
He came out with the K C Carrier, (K= Karen C= Chuck) a molded plastic 3 ball bag on wheels with a better shoe compartment. The weight of the balls kept the front opening doors closed and the shoe compartment shut. He had them made here in the Valley and later altered the mold to make a two-ball roller. The wheelbase remained the same at 18 inches. Different things that have had a negative effect on the bowling industry include other businesses shutting down, earthquakes, and mostly real estate prices increasing.
When the GM plant in Van Nuys closed in 1992, I seem to recall league bowler count dropped for many houses. Then the 94’ Northridge quake hit. Granada Lanes, the house I learned to bowl in, went down permanently because of asbestos contamination and the lease was up at the end of the year. Matador, the worst structural damage, lost a wall and had water damage. It took until November to reopen. Corbin Bowl in Tarzana wens down for a while, Rocket Bowl in Chatsworth had some structural damage, and Canoga Park Bowl had disruption of water service.
Chuck was still selling his KC Carrier rolling bags locally through the shop and back east through a wholesaler. Because of the quake the outfit making them for Chuck lost one of their two furnaces. They informed him that he would need to increase the quantity of bags being made in order to continue production. He didn’t have enough room to store that quantity, so he was forced to discontinue production.
Another idea Chuck had to help customers was to make a video about choosing a ball suitable for your style and the lane conditions you bowl on. Back in the 1960’s bowling ball manufacturers came out with new models of balls infrequently, mostly changing colors and cover stocks a little. In the early 1990’s reactive resin cover stocks and hi-tech cores started a race by the manufacturers to see who could make the newest model that “gets through the head”, has a strong mid lane read, and “has a devastating back end” with each new model doing better than the previous one for the past 25 years.
Choosing the right ball was difficult because there were so many choices. Chucks idea of video was great, but the timing could not have been worse. It was filmed 1 week and 1 day before the 94 quake. The studio where it was to be edited and produced was just the 1 mile from the epicenter of where the quake hit.
It took about 6 months for the studio to get back up and running. Chuck marketed the video even though the balls on the tape was getting outdated by the onslaught of new releases from the manufactures. The delay of introducing the video cost him sales. The overall market was so depressed that Chuck decided to downsize to a single wide shop. He built a new work area against the west wall, put a wall up the middle of the two store-fronts and moved everything that would fit to the 19749 shop.
After the downsize, from 1994 through 2002, sales in the pro shop declined to the point that the wholesale bowling equipment company that Chuck dealt with most often informed him that pro shops inside bowling centers were doing better than free standing shops.
A fortuitous turn of events happened in 2002. One of the bowling centers remaining in the Valley got new owners They enticed a pro shop operator from another center to move into their center. That left another local house without anyone in the pro shop. Chuck talked to the manager of the house, as well as a regional supervisor for AMF and in July 2002 after 29 years on Sherman Way, Valley Bowling Supply moved into AMF Rocket Bowl. That same year AMF had the opportunity to purchase the land and building to keep Rocket Bowl thriving, but they opted for signing a five-year lease with the old owner who then sold the land and building to a real-estate developer.
The new owner thought he could do a quick flip and sell it to interested Bowling Proprietors. For reasons unknown he backed out of the deal and got sued for breach of contract. That soured him on bowling so that when AMF wanted to sign a new lease in 2007, instead of 5 years he limited it to 2 years and more than tripled the rent. In 2009 he wanted even more, and AMF said no thanks and closed Rocket.
Luckily Chuck was on good terms with AMF and they owned another house in the Valley, Woodlake Bowl in Woodland Hills, less than 3 miles from his home.
In talking with AMF, it seems the young proprietor of the pro shop in Woodlake only devoted about a week’s worth of time to working the entire month of December 2008. The customers there were not happy AMF was not happy either. They terminated his lease at the end of January 2009.
Chuck started moving in around the middle of February, but not into the old pro shop, it was definitely too small. He talked the man-ager into cleaning out a “storage room” that used to be a kiddee room, it was slightly bigger than the shop at Rocket. Fortunately, Chuck met a lot of nice people at Woodlake, you know who you are, because Chuck made this move just after losing his beloved sweetheart Karen.
After the Bridgeport mill got moved in March, Chuck got into the habit of going to Michael D’s restaurant at Woodlake because he liked the food and the people. He enjoyed being at the center enough to join a league, and when his teammates, who drove all the way from Ventura asked him to bowl with them at Buena Lanes he said yes.
A while later he organized a benefit tournament for Mark Roth who had suffered a stroke,
Well, Chuck’s good times at Woodlake came to an end when Bowlmor bought AMF in 2013. The head-honcho of Bowlmor said “We aren’t going to change anything”.
The 3rd week of September Chuck walked into Michael D’s to have breakfast and Michael asked “Chuck, what are you doing here so early?” Chuck replied, “I’m here to have breakfast and then open the pro shop”. It was about 10:00AM. Michael said “The bowling alley doesn’t open till 4:00PM.”
Bowlmor didn’t tell Chuck anything about the change of hours of operation.
Chuck didn’t waste any time, he found out that the pro shop inside Brunswick Matador Bowl had been empty for 10 months. It was less than 2 weeks later that we had moved into Matador.
After we had the shop up and running the Regional Supervisor for Brunswick commented to Chuck, don’t worry, we (Brunswick) are here to stay. In 2014 Bowlmor bought all the Brunswick houses except the one in Simi Valley that they built in the 1980s when the location in Newbury Park didn’t pan out, and the one I consider the newest and most earthquake safe after its renovation in 1994, Matador Bowl.
Chuck and I are not sure why these two houses were offered to entrepreneurial proprietors, but we are glad to be in one, especially considering it is one of only six houses left in the San Fernando Valley, if you count Woodlake as an actual center, which is now a party house with no leagues.
Chuck’s favorite thing to do at the shop, after he got his tea or coffee from the snack bar was to go out on the lanes when someone asked for help. He would tell them where to stand and what board to use as their target, get them to relax and focus, and then get strikes! When he was in the shop, he would help customers pick out the right ball for the best performance and a comfortable pair of shoes. He was continuously thinking of something to try in the shop to help sales or to help people bowl better. When there weren’t customers in the shop his favorite thing to do was watch Japan and Korean Women’s Professional Bowling on YouTube.
His favorite bowler to watch was Urara Himeji, one of Japan’s greatest competitors. He really wanted to meet her, but he was excited and pleased when one of our customers attended a women’s professional tournament in Orange County and got a picture of her on his phone which he then sent to Chuck’s phone. He was proud to show that picture to anyone. Something else Chuck was always proud of was his grandson Justin who shot 300 in practice at a very young age and then went on to become an exceptional competitor in Junior tournaments where he managed a feat very few bowlers ever achieve with back to back 300s in one qualifying event. Chuck is also proud of Justin for following his dream of flying. He is now an international flight attendant for a major airline.
I’m sure that anyone in Chuck’s family who was a non-smoker asked him to quit.
Many of his friends, myself included asked him to or told him he should quit smoking but once an addictive substance is in your system it takes more than coaxing to get someone to quit. Chuck quit smoking the day that COPD symptoms hit him hard enough that he couldn’t draw in enough breath to light a cigarette after which he spent at least 6 weeks in the hospital.
The last 2-1/2 years Chuck was on oxygen at home and took a portable unit with him wherever he went. He would ask new customers of they smoked, if they did, he would warn them they could end up like him, out of breath walking more than 40 feet.
Chuck was still a positive influence as his last words to me on my voicemail was “What are you doing with all your spare time?”
He will be sorely missed.
P.S. John Villa – quit smoking!
P.P.S. To all Bowling Center Managers and Proprietors. After the Covid 19 pandemic passes, the key to keeping your center thriving, League Bowlers COMMIT to going out of their way to bowl with friends for the DURATION of a league season. Open play bowlers DON’T!