From Left Field
By BOB SHRALUKA
Saturday may be marked in red on the calendar in the Mike Miller household and at his place of business. As in, you know, red-letter day.
It will be one year Saturday since his place of business, Villa Lanes, came back from the proverbial dead. Dead as in closed for three years, which can be an eternity for a business. Dead as in out of sight, out of mind with way too many Decatur and area residents. Dead as in being mismanaged and sent in cement shoes to the bottom of the ocean of shipwrecked bowling centers.
Josh Krueckeberg and Dan Evans changed all that, however, by purchasing the establishment which originally opened in 1950 and handing it over to Miller, a longtime bowler, to be nurtured, brought back to life.
One year later, Miller seems a little more discouraged and every bit as determined. The twinge of discouragement is understandable for someone so consumed with making a go of something so near and dear to him. And in talking with him, it's obvious the determination wins out over any discouragement.
"It's hard not to get discouraged some times, but you have to remember that we had only eight leagues last year and we're hoping to get 18 this year," Miller said the other day. "We're gonna pull out all the stops (in making the place go); we're not going away."
While he's always hoping for something better, Miller is also realistic.
"I'd say it was a good first year, considering how long we were closed," he reasoned. "Summer's been slow, but the entire bowling industry has been that way. We re gearing up for leagues now. We have more leagues (than a year ago), but still not what I was hoping to get. A lot of people are staying in their own establishments, in Berne and Bluffton."
Then the determination bounds forward again: "Hey, we're plugging away; you do what you can do. We've painted and patched and made the place much better. Like I said, we're not going away."
And Miller is not just sitting back and hoping things go well. He's still thinking up and trying new things.
"We've got some ideas we want to try for this winter," said Miller, who was born the same year Villa Lanes was initially opened by Dick and Gwen Mies. "The comedy shows we've had went well. We went back to seven days last Sunday (from shortened hours during the summer) and we've got a website now, villalanesbowing.com.
"So I guess you could say we're where we want to be."
One of those ideas is a large-scale bowling event.
"We're bidding for a Legion bowling tournament for this winter," he said. "If we could get that, it would bring in a lot of people, be good for Dectaur; restaurants, hotels and the like."
Another idea — "dream" might be a better word — is expanding into other areas of recreation.
"We're hop[ng in the future to get something out back, like Putt Putt Golf and go-karts. Then Decatur could have a true family amusement center:"
That would mean more spending, of course, unlikely in today's economy. But the new owners didn't go on the cheap to put the place back in order, practically from top to bottom, from inside to outside. That included bringing back Molly's Place, the attached restaurant which adds to the bowling center's attraction.
Probably the wisest decision was hiring Miller, who loves bowling so much he now has the card to show that he's a professional. It was said in this space a year ago that Krueckeberg and Evans found their Pied Piper in Miller, and after a few bumps and bruises along the way, he's still playing his same tune: "We're gonna make this work."