COLUMBIA FALLS — Derek and Kristen Larson had plenty to do last week as they sat down at a table backlit by the slick bowling lanes at Glacier Lanes.
The popular string quartet The Stringlers were going to be on stage that weekend, and bringing music to the bowling alley is one of the biggest goals for its new owners, who also have plans to expand on the alley’s family feel.
“We always wanted to do our own thing,” Derek said.
“And we’re always looking for something fun,” Kristen said. “We wanted to be able to do something for the community as well.”
“Yeah, we’re just big kids,” Derek said.
The Larsons take on the bowling alley after buying it from Steve Ferkovich and Greg Bauska, who have owned the alley for a couple of decades. The alley went up for sale in 2017, and there were rumors that the grocery store next to it, Smith’s Food and Drug, had purchased the building and property to turn it into a gas station.
There were rumors of other potential purchases and the changes they wanted to make on the property, and the Larsons wanted to make sure the community knew the bowling alley is staying put.
The new ownership completes a circle for the Larsons, both of whom are from Kalispell and graduated from Flathead High School in 2000. For starters, Kristen’s parents met at the B&B grocery store, which is now Smith’s and the bowling alley’s neighbor.
Kristen and Derek met in seventh grade, and would reconnect in college in Boston years later, after Kristen had completed a year living in New Zealand.
As musicians, the couple lived in Boston, New York, and Portland, Oregon and performed as William Ingrid in a freeform electric band before coming back to the Flathead Valley when they found out Kristen was pregnant. At that point, they were running an “unsanctioned warehouse club” in Portland that focused on community, local artists, and musicians.
They were thinking about making a run at California, but felt the pull of home when they realized the newest generation was on her way. It’s difficult enough as it is to live elsewhere, Kristen said.
“It’s hard with these mountains and this lake,” she said.
“And we have all this family here,” Derek added.
Since the move back, they’ve managed to play music throughout the valley, but wanted to contribute back to the community. Eyeing the bowling alley, they knew it had potential for more, but also that it has a stalwart group of league bowlers who call these lanes home.
Taking over as owners means appreciating a balance between what is already happening there and what could happen there, Kristen said.
Already, the couple has plans. They’d like to add space for a new stage to promote music in the bowling alley, and they hope to add a little “throwback funky diner” to the mix, along with the possibility of new beer taps. There are plans to move the casino machines to a different area to open up space near the stage and the lanes for ping-pong, billiards, arcade games, and other family-friendly activities.
They plan to add a dropdown screen over the lanes so they can host movie nights, and upgrade the technology in the bowling alley so they can have themed bowling nights, such as cosmic bowling or rock-and-roll bowling.
Otherwise, the Larsons want to maintain Glacier Lanes’ distinctive character. The Elmer Sprunger mural standing sentinel over the bowling pins will remain, if not get a little touchup. They’re removing the fluorescent lighting and any vestiges of the 1980s to get the alley back to its vintage 1960s look, including keeping the original pinsetters cranking along with the help of the former owners and friendly mechanics.
Currently, Glacier Lanes is taking donations for the Happiness is a Warm Sleeping Bag program. Anyone who donates a new or gently used sleeping bag, blankets, and sweaters gets to hit the lanes for a free game.
Maintaining a space for the community to gather for myriad events while promoting musicians is one of the couple’s goals, but who knows, they could even get into bowling.
“For now, we’re open bowlers,” Derek said.
For more information, visit the Glacier Lanes Facebook page or call (406) 892-5858.