West Lanes Bowling Center 12/1/15 12/01/15 9:51:15 AM
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Mike Pirruccello is breathing new life into West Lanes Bowling Center and is excited about the changes planned at the 72nd and Dodge intersection. – Photo by Jordan Green
Six Decades of Strikes
West Lanes Bowling Center Honored as
Chamber’s Small Business of the Month
By Dan McCann
The Daily Record
Mike Pirruccello is in the business of building relationships – and enhancing his late grandparents’ legacy – one spare, one strike, one customer at a time.
“I’m a ‘people person’; I like talking to folks. That’s how my grandparents were,” he shared.
Pirruccello owns West Lanes Bowling Center, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s December Small Business of the Month, with his father, Ray Kurtzuba, and two sisters, Stephanie Coakley and Kimberly Borner. They are, in Pirruccello’s words, “walking in the shoes of giants” – West Lane founders Anthony “Tony” Pirruccello and his wife Nellie.
“My grandfather immigrated to America when he was 17. He didn’t have any money. He didn’t speak the language. He met my beautiful grandmother here. She was actually the daughter of immigrants from the same small town in Italy where he was from,” Pirruccello explains.
Tony and Nellie opened West Lanes in 1955 just north of 72nd and Dodge Sts., what was then the western fringe of Omaha.
“72nd & Dodge was a brick road. Crossroads was a cornfield. People thought my grandparents were crazy for building out here, but they were groundbreakers,” Pirruccello says. “They were pioneers. They were trailblazers. They showed everyone who doubted them what they were made of.”
The couple owned and operated the center – “their American dream” and one of Omaha’s original bowling alleys – for 25 successful years. They sold the business in 1980 just five years after West Lanes’ costliest strike.
“The Tornado of ’75 ran right into this building. Rather than quit, they rebuilt,” Pirruccello says.
The center returned to the family – Pirruccello, his father and two sisters – in 2011. The alley, then in a state of disrepair, required extensive rehab.
“It was intensive work getting this place together,” Pirruccello recalls.
At the 2011 grand re-opening, Nellie, at 100 years old, threw out the first ball. It harkened back to the original opening in 1955 when she threw out the first ball – in a ball gown.
“It was a big ‘to do.’ The mayor was there,” Pirruccello says. “It was so important for me, when we got this place back, to have her come and throw that first ball out. [Mayor Jean Stothert] was just inundated with well-wishers. It was amazing.”
Pirruccello says the key to West Lanes’ longevity has been a friendly and knowledgeable staff, good word-of-mouth, and those cultivated relationships with customers.
“We always try to make sure we are very interactive with our guests. We like to talk to them and listen to them, see what they like and what they want. You can’t imagine how much you learn just from listening to folks.”
West Lanes offers open bowling, league bowling and tournaments as well as a full service lounge, snack bar and party room for 80. To keep its customers satisfied and coming back, the center invests heavily in upgrades year-after-year. Synthetic lanes have replaced the original wooden ones. The alley also boasts new pin decks, a new scoring system and a yearly influx of new pins. A new beer garden and horseshoe pits will debut in the spring. But, Pirruccello is equally proud of the fact that some of the original accoutrements remain, including a now vintage wall clock.
“It’s a big deal because it shows steadiness and continuity,” he says. “There is a sense of family and history here.”
In keeping with a precedent set by Tony and Nellie, the current owners are quick to support community causes. West Lanes partners with several private and public groups on different fundraising projects, including work with the Omaha Public and Catholic Schools, Creighton University, University of Nebraska-Omaha, Alzheimer’s Association and Siena/Francis House.
“The important part of doing business is not only the bottom line, but how you get there. That was the greatest lesson from Grandma Pirruccello,” her grandson shares.
Pirruccello accepts the Chamber’s Small Business of the Month Award in his grandparents’ name. “This award is for them. I’m very humbled by it. It really means something. It’s quite a feather in our cap.”
Also gratifying? The trajectory of the company. Pirruccello says business is growing 12-to-20 percent each year. With the Crossroads redevelopment gaining momentum right across the street, he sees only good things ahead.
“They’re on the precipice of this brand new awakening over there. Once that happens, the sky is the limit for this place.”
United Republic Bank sponsors the Chamber’s Small Business of the Month award. To nominate a small business online, visit www.omahachamber.org. Nominees must be current Chamber members with 50 employees or less.