Anyone who has driven along Brunswick Pike (Business Route 1) in Lawrence Township during the last two weeks or so will have noticed that the much-anticipated renovation of the old Colonial Lanes bowling alley has been completed.
And judging from all the vehicles filling the parking lot most nights, the new Colonial Bowling & Entertainment Center is proving to be a popular destination. Among the center’s features are 24 regulation bowling lanes, two mini-bowling lanes, a 3,000-square foot laser tag arena, an arcade with 80 games and prize redemption, a full-service bar, a quick-service café and an upscale restaurant.
Although the center actually opened to the public a week earlier, a formal ribbon-cutting was held last Friday (Feb. 24).
“It has been a tremendous privilege to do this project and restore Colonial to its rightful spot as the premiere family entertainment center within 100 miles,” Peter Sheft said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. He co-owns the center with his brothers Stanley A. and Michael Sheft. “We offer so much more than any place around. The facility, as you can see, is state-of-the-art. We take a lot of pride in the operation of this facility. We have a staff that is really dedicated to providing top-notch entertainment to families and adults.”
More than 50 jobs have already been created and that number could rise to as high as 75 once the restaurant – which will offer everything from steaks and shrimp to salads and burgers – completes its initial start up and gets into full operation, according to Peter Sheft.
Colonial has been a Lawrence Township fixture since it opened the day after Christmas 1949 with just 12 bowling lanes, and has been part of the Sheft family since the brothers’ father, the late Stanley R. Sheft, first invested in it in the late 1950s. He eventually became the sole owner. The business flourished, with expansions to 64 lanes and the addition of a nightclub that from 1969 to 1985 hosted top performers like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Frank Stallone.
But the economic downturn eventually took its toll.
“As the manufacturing base left the Trenton area, so left a lot of the bowlers,” Peter Sheft explained. “We were 64,000-square-feet and basically able to fill only half the building at any one time. So the logical conclusion was to chop it in half… We needed to make a choice either to sell the entire facility because it was getting to be subpar from what our standards were or invest a lot of money to renovate and basically reinvent ourselves as a family entertainment center.”
Working with the federal Small Business Administration and Small Business Development Center at The College of New Jersey, the Sheft family obtained a loan and launched their ambitious plan to turn the old bowling alley into a new family entertainment destination. The business closed last May, with a and . The new building, which covers 38,200-square-feet, was built using part of the old building’s steel frame.
Peter Sheft said the final price tag for the renovation is not yet known, as bills are still coming in and change order fees are being negotiated. “It was many millions of dollars, just shy of double digits. It’s a lot of money, but we feel like the risk is worth it,” he said.
“It’s going to be a pleasure to work here and be in partnership with Lawrence Township. We love Lawrence and we’re very happy here. I thank you guys for taking a chance and believing in us,” he said during the ribbon-cutting, which was attended by a variety of officials, including Township Manager Richard Krawczun, Mayor Jim Kownacki and the other members of township council.
Councilman Greg Puliti spoke about how, as a child, he used to bowl at Colonial on Saturdays and rode his bicycle there during the week to play games after school using money collected from his newspaper route. “The other day – I couldn’t wait for today – I had to come up and see what it looked like. As I walked in from the parking lot, I sort of had a déjà vu, back-to-the-future moment. I saw a couple bicycles lying up against the wall and a couple kids inside the door. So that means this is going to be here for a couple generations to come.”
“When we did the groundbreaking, I used an Italian word, ‘coraggio,’” Mercer County Freeholder Pat Colavita, a former Lawrence Township mayor, said during the ceremony. “Peter, I hope you remember that. It took courage and a leap of faith, but look you persevered. And here you have brought hope and revitalization to Mercer County.”
He said Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, in his budget address to the freeholders just the night before (Feb. 23), referred to the Colonial Bowling & Entertainment Center as “a sign of revitalization and improvement in the economy.”
“The courage to proceed with this project and bring it to fruition deserves a round of applause,” Colavita said. “Thank you for believing in this. We have tremendous pride in Lawrence Township. My family has been here since 1904. I live right across the street. My wife and I celebrated our second anniversary here [at Colonial Lanes]. We’ve been married 44 years. And my son had his seventh birthday here and he’s 42.”
State Sen. Shirley Turner offered similar congratulations during the ribbon-cutting. “I have been a resident of Lawrence Township for pretty near 50 years and I remember this bowling alley when it was more like the Flintstones. My children bowled here, along with my husband and I. It’s a wonderful, wonderful asset. As they say, it’s not only a family that prays together stays together, but it’s also a family that plays together stays together. This is a wonderful family entertainment center. I wish you all the very best of luck.”
Lorraine Allen, regional director of the Small Business Development Center at TNCJ, praised the Shefts, saying “it took a lot of courage to expand their business and take risk and debt in a downed economy.”
After the ribbon was cut, many of the dignitaries took turns testing out the four bowling lanes located in the VIP Lounge, a room that is available to be rented for private parties.
The ribbon-cutting was bittersweet for Peter Sheft, having lost his father recently to pulmonary fibrosis. The elder Sheft, who was 84 when he died Jan. 14, had retired in 1996 after practicing dentistry in Passaic for 30 years.
Peter Sheft said his dad “would have been proud. He would have liked to have seen this.”
Charles Hoch, Colonial’s original owner, was a “World War II buddy” of Stanley R. Sheft who convinced the elder Sheft to invest in the bowling alley around the time it expanded from 12 lanes to 20. The elder Sheft eventually became a major shareholder and, following another expansion to 32 lanes in the 1970s, became the sole owner.
Peter Sheft said Colonial Bowling & Entertainment Center has taken steps – from having dress code requirements to using off-duty police officers as security – to ensure that the facility remains family-oriented. “We are dedicated to providing a clean, safe, family-fun atmosphere. Anything that detracts from that will not be tolerated,” he said.
Located at 2420 Brunswick Pike, Colonial Bowling & Entertainment Center is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday.