LEOMINSTER — In 1958, when Albert Mason was 24 years old, he purchased the piece of wooded land that would eventually become Mason Bowling Center, or “Mason’s,” as it’s affectionately dubbed locally.
Now, after 62 years in operation, 10 years barely breaking even, and about seven years on the market, Mason’s has officially exchanged hands.
“It’s 62 years since we opened, it’s only a matter of math that I am 62 years older and I don’t have anybody in my family or outside the family who can take on the total responsibility,” said Mason, a native of Brookline who at 88 years old, is still going strong. “To own this place is a responsibility and it’s a financial responsibility. The world has changed a lot in the last 10 years, it is not a profitable undertaking.”
The transaction was finalized yesterday for $1,250,000. Mason said the Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased the bowling center with plans of redeveloping it.
“If you had to make a living operating a bowling alley the last ten years, this bowling alley, you couldn’t do it,” said Mason.
But back in 1960, when 26-year-old Mason finished developing the land into the bowling alley, golf course and ice cream stand that remains today, the bowling industry was a profitable business venture that was gaining steam.
Bowling peaked in the mid-1960s when 12,000 new alleys popped up throughout the nation, the business then steadily declined over the years.
According to a 2011 study cited by USA Today in an article written in 2015, from 1998-2013, the number of bowling alleys in the country decreased about 26% from 5,400 from 3,976.
The bowling industry took a hit in the post-industrial era that was ushered in by the “computer revolution,” which also took place in the 1960s. The “computer-based infrastructure” definitive of post-industrial society brought with it a sedentary lifestyle, workforce, not to mention video games.
And while Leominster appears to be a boon for business today, serving as a business center for abutting business-barren towns like Lancaster, Lunenburg and Bolton, Mason said that over the years, major corporations have left the area, decreasing attendance rates at Mason’s.
“You had GE, a sunglass company, Dupont, a telephone company, you had plastic companies. There was an enormous infrastructure to support the plastics companies, you had tools, dyes, specialists,” explained Mason.
“Then the world changed,” he said. “The last 10 years, little by little, the paper mills left and the law company left, everybody left and there’s a limited amount of industry here, some, but it’s quite limited.”
Over the last decade, Mason kept the bowling center in operation out of love for the wholesome entertainment, which brings families together and provides a safe environment for dating and friend-making.
“I could have closed it anytime I wanted to because I didn’t depend on it for a living,” said Mason, who makes his living operating Mason Capital Partners, an investment service in Boston. “It was depending on me for a living, but basically, I come up here and I like to walk up and down and meet the people, see the birthday parties and the kids having a good time.”
“I’m really sorry to see it go,” he said. “What are you going to do with a family now?”