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Western Lanes: Mostly the Same, but Minus the Cornerstone

Last December, Western Lanes began a transformation. It was sold to a group of 20-something investors from the area. While promising to retain most of the features that give it charm, they wanted to give it a minor facelift and modernize it. The first change is the name–it is now known as “The Alley”. The fate of long time restaurant staff was less clear however, as it would have to temporarily close for restoration.

Late last year, we confirmed that Theresa Fenner, bartender at Western Lanes for 27 years, would in fact stay on staff and remain a part of the family throughout the transition process. When stopping by on a recent visit to check on her and the modernization effort, I learned of very sad news: She had contracted a very serious kidney infection, which for the past month has kept her out of work. On April 17th, she was airlifted to Winston-Salem to undergo treatment. According to her husband, her odds were at 50% for surviving. She fought through it, and 11 days later was discharged.

During the process, she (and other restaurant staff) had to cut back to part-time hours, which caused a loss in insurance coverage. Because of this, she cut back on her diabetes medicine, which likely caused the initial infection which led to kidney damage. Now with medical bills looming well over $100,000, the outlook is far more grim. She hopes to return to work, but currently has difficulty moving from one end of the house to the other. It will certainly be an uphill process.

Mike, her husband who is also employed at The Alley, mentioned during my visit that she is constantly asking about the changes to the place. The first thing I noticed was the repainted backdrop of the lanes. He mentioned they were styled in honor of the lanes in the film “The Big Lebowski”. Occasionally, you can catch the film playing on the new televisions (as long as there are no children bowling, of course).

There are other new changes: a game room with a pool table, a new bar, and a kitchen currently being modernized, among others. There is still quite a bit of work to go, however. “The Alley” is the only bowling alley in the area with wooden lanes, but they are in dire need of replacing. They’ve been sanded down so many times they can’t be treated any more. And although there was initially talk of installing automatic scoreboards, thankfully it appears that the idea has been nixed.

While most of these changes are certain to increase business and foot traffic to the Hillsborough Street landmark, it’s certainly missing a major part of what gives it charm. Theresa – I hope these images tell the story of your home away from home, and we offer best wishes for a speedy recovery. The bar just isn’t the same without your hand-flung beers and smiling face.

(If you’d like to donate to help pay for Theresa’s medical bills, you can contribute directly at “The Alley”.)


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