Tom Brongo at Brongo Bowl

Tom Brongo ran Brongo Bowl for nearly four decades. Photo provided by Donna Brongo

BY DEB AND TIM SMITH
The imminent reopening of the bowling alley in Honeoye Falls under the new moniker of the “Okay Beer Company at West Main Lanes” has been the inspiration for us to delve into the history of our local lanes. Let’s climb aboard the Wayback Machine, journey back in time 73 years, and pick up this story at the very beginning.

There was a quarter-page ad in the Honeoye Falls Times of Thursday, March 4, 1948 proclaiming “A Dream Becomes A Reality – Fun For All!!” How excited were folks for this big event? Well, if you didn’t notice the two!! exclamation points at the end of the advertisement, check out the dates of the advertisement and the grand opening. While the ad was appearing in the March 4th paper, the opening date appearing in the ad wasn’t until September 1st.

Turns out the projected opening date was only a bit too optimistic. The new facility would actually host its first guests on September 11th of 1948. As spring turned into summer that year, there was a sense of anticipation in the community.

In what would be the first HF Times issue of that summer, dated June 24, 1948, a story ran under the headline of “Warren Building Ready for Bowlers by September 15 – Sportacade New Title for Village Recreation Center.”

The article offered the following assessment of how plans were coming along for the new facility. “Work is progressing rapidly on the new recreational sports center being erected by Harland E. Warren at the former airport in Honeoye Falls, and a massive crane will be on hand this weekend to place the elaborate cross beams that will support the roof. A concrete flooring will be installed next week to cover 10,000 square feet.”

Between the March opening announcement and the June HF Times story an issue had come up with the name of the building. While the distance between the facilities would seem to have made the duplication of names a moot point, there was a bowling alley near New York City that was already using the name “Sports Center.” That establishment was able to prevent the use of its name in Honeoye Falls so the new name of “Sportacade” was adopted.

THE HORST ERA ~ The name Warren in the aforementioned headline referred to Harland E. Warren who was the original owner and proprietor. An August 1950 issue of the HF Times announced that Sharry J. Horst will become the “new manager” of the Sportacade in September of that year.

A couple notes on Sharry Horst, who we knew and whose kids we went to school with… first of all, your immediate gender perception is probably off; Sharry was a man. He was an excellent bowler who carried a 190 average and he was also known as a standout baseball player. Sharry would run the Sportacade until his death in 1971.

It was a sudden and tragic death that shook the community to which he had become so attached. In the early morning hours of Thursday, March 18, 1971, Horst was travelling on Route 15A when his vehicle left the road and struck a tree, killing him on impact.

THE BRONGO ERA ~ The next phase of the bowling alley in Honeoye Falls would be the Tom Brongo era. So how does the Brongo family enter the picture? This actually makes for a pretty good story as shared with us by Tom’s son, Larry. “My grandfather, Lawrence, owned multiple bowling establishments in the Rochester area and the availability of the Honeoye Falls site happened to coincide with my father’s decision to not continue college. At that point my grandfather bought the bowling alley in HF and told my father, ‘If you are not going to school you’re going to work for a living. I’m buying the bowling alley in Honeoye Falls. You’re going to run it and pay me back every cent.’ My grandfather then drove my father from Rochester, where they lived, and dropped him off at the bowling alley and left him. Dad had to call a friend from the city to come pick him up that first day.”

After that bit of a rocky start, Tom ended up developing an endearing transition to his new hometown where he would become a pillar of the community for the next four decades. It would be at the bowling alley where Tom would meet his future wife Donna, a Lima girl from Dalton Road. They would marry in 1973 and move into one of the apartments located on the corner of York Street and Martin Road, before eventually moving to their York Street home where Donna still lives. Keep this address in mind because we’ve got a bit of a “Twilight Zone” vibe to throw your way later in the story.

While there have been a handful of renovations to the building over the years, far and away the most significant was one that coincided with the nation’s bicentennial celebration. It was in 1976 that the actual bowling portion of the building doubled in size. The original eight-lane facility was increased to the current sixteen-lane format.

Neither of us were bowlers, but ironically we each have personal stories connected to the early Brongo era. Deb’s father, Jack Gonyea, was the weekend bartender at the bowling alley during the 1960’s and 70’s, his tenure there covering the end of the Horst era and the beginning of the Brongo era.

Donna Brongo shared with us her memory of going to the bowling alley as a child and having Jack give the kids a special offer whereby they could come into the bar area and watch “The Flintstones” on TV as long as they behaved. Jack was always a man who knew how to barter a solid deal that would be to the benefit of everyone involved. He figured if the kids were content while their parents bowled, free of distractions, then everyone would come out ahead.

As Tom Brongo became acclimated to his new home turf, he established a circle of guy friends who would gather at his York Street apartment to drink beer and watch TV. Tim was in this circle and has fond memories of those York Street get-togethers, always thinking that Donna was the ultimate hostess in allowing her home to be invaded by a barrage of beer-swilling college guys surrounding her TV to watch “Baretta” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.”

THE HIGGINS ERA ~ Under Tom’s leadership, Brongo Bowl would thrive for the next four decades until his death in September of 2010. After the passing of Tom Brongo, the Brongo family sold the business to John Higgins in July of 2012. At this point the facility was renamed Cougar Lanes with the link to the Brongo era being Mike Kime who had begun working for Tom in 2003. Mike helped facilitate the transition between ownerships.

Unfortunately the next transition was not as far down the road as people would have hoped. John Higgins died unexpectedly of the flu in February of 2014 and Mike Kime found himself suddenly thrust into the position of running the business for the Higgins estate. This scenario lasted one year with Mike keeping the business on track with a great deal of help from Joe Killenbec and Marilyn Briggs.

THE MILLER ERA ~ In February of 2015, Brad Miller bought the business which would become known as Miller Lanes for the next five years. Brad Miller was the perfect man to take the baton for the next leg in our local lanes’ legacy. Bowling was in his blood. Tom Brongo had been Best Man at the wedding of Brad’s parents Gregg and Cheryl. “As a kid I spent the majority of my time at Brongo Bowl,” Brad said, “bowling, helping out, anything I could.”

“I started working there legally when I was 16,” Brad continued, “but before then I used to pick up empties and clean for Tom and he would give me $20 or so for helping out.” Brad said that some free bowling was also thrown in as part of the deal.

Mike Kime would continue with Miller Lanes before bowing out in 2018. Mike loved his years there and spoke very highly of all three owners for whom he worked. “I cherish the friends I made over those 15 years,” Mike said, “the families that celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and other special events, the youth bowlers I watched grow up, and the other employees that made that building a home and a treasure to the local community.”

The next transition in the storyline would be yet another example of the crippling cost of Covid. When we spoke to Brad Miller in August of 2020 he discussed with us his decision to move on. “Because of being shut down with no timeline for reopening from New York State leadership,” Brad said, “the business was put in the position of having to decide how to proceed when expenses to keep the doors open far outweigh the income we can generate within the scope of services provided at a bowling center.”

Brad closed by saying, “I would like to just thank the community so much for the love and support over the past five plus years, and I will always cherish the memories that were made. They will never be taken away from me.”

So with the Miller Lanes era coming to an end in the summer of 2020 and the country throttled in the throes of a nationwide pandemic, the future of the venerable bowling alley in Honeoye Falls was fraught with uncertainty. One view we can espouse with a fairly high degree of certainty would be that if you had informed folks in Honeoye Falls that the future of their bowling alley was currently just hanging out in San Francisco brewing beer, few would have found that to be a very likely scenario.

THE WILE/PHILLIPS ERA ~ But alas, that was actually the case and it certainly serves to set us up for a Smith storytelling session. Do we have some dots to connect here, or what? Our local girl who is going to provide that connection is one Megan Phillips who had grown up on York Street, graduating from HF-L in 2006. Life has led Megan to the Golden State where she is working as a hostess at Magnolia Brewing Company, a craft brewery/restaurant in San Francisco.

It is there that she meets Seth Wile who has been hired by her establishment. Initially she is charged with training him as a server, then a host. Not scheduled as part of the training was the blossoming of a romance; sometimes those things just happen. And as fate would have it, what also would come into bloom is Seth’s passion for craft brewing. He becomes an assistant brewer at Magnolia before ascending to the role of head brewer.

As Megan and Seth’s relationship continues to grow, one of the other passions they share is bowling. By now you’re probably beginning to see how the stars are about to align on this one. Megan’s mom, who is still living on York Street, is assessing the happenings here in Honeoye Falls and connecting those dots with her daughter in San Francisco.

At home, the CB Craft Brewery has been shuttered and Miller Lanes is for sale. Mom throws out the idea that Honeoye Falls may provide the perfect combination opportunity for Megan and Seth to combine their dual passion for bowling and brewing. The idea catches fire in Frisco and the couple decides that Seth’s eight years of brewing experience could be brought to bear at a bowling alley in a town 2725 miles away that he’s only visited a handful of times.

So the idea that had been pitched in August of 2020 leads to Seth and Megan making their triumphant return to Honeoye Falls in May of 2021. Yep, the kids are back in town, and with their work cut out for them. It is truly a labor of love and one that seems destined to add a nice new dimension to the community.

Speaking of dimensions, we promised you a “Twilight Zone” experience earlier in the article so why don’t we cue up the music and “Take you to another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind.” Now that we’ve created such drama, we certainly better deliver some quirky coincidences, right? Well, here we go…

Remember when we told you that Tom and Donna Brongo bought their first house on York Street and it’s the one Donna stills lives in to this very day? Well, Megan Phillips’ mother happens to live in the house across the street from Donna Brongo and since Seth and Megan have returned to HF, they’ve been living in the upstairs of that house.

So that begins a bowling “circle of life” concept connecting the Brongo era to the present. But for this story to achieve “Twilight Zone” status it really needs one more super-dramatic twist, doesn’t it? Here it is… Guess who lived in the current Phillips house 50 years ago? Cue the spooky music… and yep, it was Sharry Horst, (the original manager)! He lived there until the day he died.

OKAY BEER COMPANY AT WEST MAIN LANES ~ When we wrote a short article in mid-summer about the reopening, we led by joking that it’s been so quiet on West Main Street in Honeoye Falls that you could hear a pin drop. That, of course, would be if there actually were any pins dropping. That no-pins-dropping scenario had been the case for some time at that point and we went on to explain how Seth Wile and Megan Phillips have plans to change all that. The couple has an exciting strategy to breathe new life into the old bowling alley in town.

Their plan is to combine the bowling facility with a craft brewery in a joint operation they are calling the Okay Beer Company at West Main Lanes. There are many components at play in this process such as kitchen remodeling, liquor license applications, redoing floors, painting walls and reworking the bar and dining area. When we spoke to them back then, it was easy to sense their excitement about this endeavor they are diving into.

With so many irons in the fire, Seth and Megan outlined what they refer to as a “phased opening.” Their goal was to hear those pins dropping again in the bowling lanes in September, a goal which has come to fruition. During the time of remodeling the kitchen and dining area they will have food available through local vendors.

Here’s how Seth and Megan summarized their mission… “Our main hope at Okay Beer Co. is to give the community back what they’ve been missing – craft beer, bowling, and great food! The Village has recently lost many of its beloved food and beverage locations and we aim to help fill this void. We will also be building up the outdoor space giving families of all ages a place to gather, celebrate and enjoy one another’s company.”

So that’s where we were a few months ago and now, drum roll, we’re finally on the brink of the dream becoming a reality. The Okay Beer Company at West Main Lanes would like to invite you to join them for a soft opening on Friday, September 17 from 4-8 pm where you can be a part of welcoming bowling back to Honeoye Falls! You can also get a sneak peek into the renovation process and learn about what it is they’ve been up to and what they will be doing.

For bowling, they’re running a $20/hr soft opening special for up to 5 people per lane, shoes included! If you’d like, join in on cornhole in the front yard or toss horseshoes out back!

Pat’s Pigs will be dishing out their mouth-watering pulled pork plate with all the fixings (and don’t worry, for the vegetarians they will have a baked ziti and other offerings) for only $15. They’ll also have some finely curated “mocktails” that their bartender extraordinaire will be mixing up, in lieu of alcohol, while they patiently await their liquor license.

Seth and Megan hope to see everyone there! For updates and news you can follow them at these outlets.
Instagram: @okaybeerco
Facebook: @OkayBeerCompany
Website: www.drinkokaybeer.com

©2021 Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel

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