Wheat Ridge Lanes is for sale but owner Dave Hanscom want to see his bowling alley keep rolling after he’s gone

Bowling has been the center thread of David Hanscom’s life.

He spent his second day on Earth inside Wheat Ridge Lanes. His dad bought the place on Nov. 15, 1964, just a few days before he was born.

Now, 57 years later, Hanscom has put the family business and the land it occupies on the market. An online listing posted last month shows the asking price is $4 million.

There has been a lot of interest, Hanscom said, but rather than cashing in quickly, he is looking to pull off the Denver real estate equivalent of picking up a 7-10 split.

He wants to find a buyer that will agree to keep running the bowling alley rather than knocking the building down and redeveloping the property at 6595 W. 38th. Ave.

“I don’t want to see the place become an apartment complex,” Hanscom said earlier this month. “That’s not my intention. The place needs to stay Wheat Ridge Lanes. I’ll do everything in my power to teach (a buyer) how to run it, to show them how I do things so they can be successful.”

The challenge for Hanscom is finding a buyer who has the money and who sees as much value in being on a first-name basis with regulars and hosting public events like muscle car shows as he does.

The Wheat Ridge zoning code clears the way for buildings as tall as 50 feet along West 38th Avenue. That number comes down to 35 feet for buildings with residential uses. Either way, there is room for significantly more square footage on the roughly three-quarter-acre lot that is now home to the single-story bowling alley.

The situation is all too familiar for longtime Denver area residents who have seen much-loved night-out spots like the Cinderella Twice Drive-In and Pagliacci’s restaurant scraped away to make way for (mostly residential) development. Others, like Capitol Hill favorite Racines Restaurant, await the wrecking ball.

Hanscom’s goal is similar to that of Marilyn Megenity, the founder and owner of downtown Denver restaurant, venue and arts and culture hub the Mercury Cafe. The Mercury, at 22nd and California streets, was put up for sale in March.

When the news broke, Megenity was firm when she was committed to finding a buyer who loved the business and would “keep it the same.”

Reached by phone Friday, Megenity said, “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the future for the Mercury looks bright.”

Wheat Ridge Lanes was built in 1958, Jefferson County property records show. Hanscom’s dad, Richard, was a mechanic there before buying it.

Hanscom started working there around age 12. In the decades since, he has prided himself on keeping the alley squeaky clean while evolving with the times to keep it running on more than game fees and shoe rentals.

Beyond its 12 bowling lanes, the building has a full bar and restaurant with nightly specials. It’s become a hub for hot rod culture, with muscle cars painted on the walls. Every Friday night, the alley hosts a “cruise-in.” Show up in a hot rod, whether it’s in pristine condition or still a work in progress, and Hanscom will hook it up with some free food.

Wheat Ridge Lanes has seen some of its fellow independent bowling allies in the Denver area vanish over the last decade.

Golden Bowl, near Golden High School, closed down in 2014 after 56 years in business. Elitch Lanes, 1.5 miles east of Hanscom’s place off of West 38th and Tennyson Street, followed suit in 2015.

Both places turned into Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage stores.

Denver resident Brian Strubbe used to frequent Golden Bowl and Elitch Lanes. On Tuesday night, he made up one-third of the “Bowling with the Homies” team that calls Wheat Ridge Lanes its league night home. The place “feels like a real bowling alley,” Strubbe said, not like some of the corporate places around town that charge a ton and don’t oil the lanes.

“I’m just numb to it at this point,” he said of Wheat Ridge Lanes being put on the market. “I just assume it won’t be a bowling alley.”

Strubbe hopes he’s wrong, of course, as does teammate Adri Ordorica. There’s an authenticity that can’t be replicated elsewhere.

“I’m from a small town. I haven’t been in Denver for that long. It has a local feel to it,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic was “a complete pain in the (butt)” for Hanscom. Cleaning every ball and surface was a challenge. He estimates the shutdowns and capacity restrictions cost him somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 in sales.

But that’s not why the property is for sale. Business was booming before COVID-19, Hancom said. Time and sky-high property values are the drivers.

“I have accomplished all I set out to accomplish here and more, and the place has never been worth more money than it is right now,” he said. “And I’m just getting older, man. I’m still in good shape. I can go and do things. I need to go do that while I can.”

West 38th Avenue is a critical strip for Wheat Ridge, a key commercial corridor that has also been earmarked for more housing density. The city’s 2011 38th Avenue Corridor Plan tabs Wheat Ridge Lanes as the eastern end of a half-mile walkable “Main Street” sub-district characterized by independent businesses.

That same plan calls for a residential district that starts basically where the bowling alley is and extends eastward to Depew Street. A mix of townhomes, condos and apartments were envisioned in 2011 and the strip is now home to some of that development. It’s not hard to envision those lines blurring.

Anxiety about disappearing neighborhood landmarks and beloved independent businesses is juxtaposed by another reality complicating life in the Denver metro right now: There isn’t enough housing.

Closing prices for homes in the Denver area hit an all-time high in March. Meanwhile, inventory dropped below 2,000 combined homes and condos on the market at the end of that month. That’s in a metro area with roughly 3.2 million residents.

Apartment rents dipped during the peak of the pandemic but rebounded earlier this year. Vacancy rates in the first quarter of the year fell below pre-COVID-19 levels.

Adam Estroff is the board president of YIMBY Denver, or “yes in my back yard.” The all-volunteer group advocates for more housing development in Denver, but that extends beyond city borders into the greater metro area, Estroff said. The aim is to support the creation of more abundant and affordable options for people.

The source of the tension between disappearing businesses and new residential development in Estroff’s view is restrictive zoning in most residential neighborhoods. It puts pressure on every available strip of developable land.

“What’s frustrating is we asked for this. Our rules are set up to force our housing development onto commercial corridors and in urban sprawl by highways,” he said. “We’re going to keep having this same conversation over and over again until we change that issue.”

When he was growing up, Estroff spent a lot of time at Coal Creek Bowling in Lafayette, he said. When he was bowling a lot in high school, he probably rolled at least a few games at Wheat Ridge Lanes, too.

“Bowling alleys are a community space,” he said. “There is a history and a culture there.”

Jen Campbell, a Wheat Ridge Lane’s staffer for nearly 12 years, has a simple reason why she wants to see the alley stick around.

“Cause there is nothing like it,” she said. “I have a license to take X-rays and I chose to work here.”

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