Salem bowling center hopes to attract new faces with youthful games, smoke-free policy gas and water mix


A new smoke-free initiative by the Salem Bowling Center is set to begin May 7, breaking an old habit at the 14-year-old recreation staple of Salem. This, along with newly acquired games and arcade units, are being implemented with the hopes of bringing in more families to a local business that wants to attract everyone.

Shannon Chounard, manager of the Salem Bowling Center, is relatively new to the community, having only been in Salem for four years. Mother to two boys, ages 15 and five, she has operated the facility in place of her father, Jesse Chounard, who owns the business, for three years.

Owner Jesse’s wife, Laura Chounard, is a Salem native, a contributing factor for his reasoning to open a facility in town. Having a history with bowling lanes and their operation for decades, he also was previously the manager at the bowling alley in Rolla before opening this venue 14 years ago. Jesse was a key factor in the decisions that the bowling alley decided to recently undertake, and even had the idea to bring in a new system to the games: tickets.

“(Some) of the bigger changes are that we started doing discounts and specials throughout the week,” Shannon said. “We’ve got all the new games, and that has been our biggest change, which came in in February. We used to just have the arcade games, the ones we grew up on like Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man, but today’s generation…that’s boring. So, these do tickets. They play them, they win the tickets and they turn those in to get prizes.”

Shannon explains that as a parent herself, when you have your child spend money to play games it can be disheartening to leave without anything to show for it. This new ticket system allows the children to walk away with a prize in hand on top of the fun they just had.

Shannon explains that before she moved to Salem to manage the facility she worked in sales for a hotel in Odessa, Texas, which she credits for her ability to speak to her clientele about these new changes and what they wanted to see in the future.

“Three years ago, when I started here things were down,” Shannon said. “We were not really going the direction we should have been going, and honestly (Jesse) was thinking about closing the doors. He went to me and (co-manager Jesse Hudson) and said, ‘I’m giving you guys two years to turn everything around,’ and being with my background in sales I did what anyone in sales would do and started talking to the people. What would bring people in, what would you want?”

The people spoke, and the first change that was sought by Shannon were better bowling prices. This included daily deals, like the Wednesday buy-one-get-one-free for games, or the Saturday Quartermania that put shoe rentals, small drinks and additional games at a quarter after a $7 entry fee.

“That saw some come in, but still not a lot so I started creating different types of tournaments. But we were still missing a huge dynamic. We were missing families,” Shannon said. “The biggest complaint to help fix that was the smoke. They wouldn’t bring their kids in or their families at all. I approached Jesse four months ago and discussed with him how many bowling alleys nowadays are smoke free, it’s a norm.”

Shannon discussed how after approaching the regular league bowlers, the most constant source of revenue for the facility, that only one individual protested to the change. With this final approval the change was set into motion with the final day of smoking set for May 6.

That night the facility will undergo some large cleaning projects that will help to alleviate the smell and residue of nicotine throughout the large hall. This includes a long-term project of bleaching the ceiling tiles, painting walls and releasing smoke-eating bombs, similar to bug bombs, in the center. Starting May 7 and beyond all tobacco users will need to use the outside facility to smoke to keep the facility more family-centric. All cleaning efforts are projected to be complete before the fall season of league begins, which is in August.

The second monumental change for the game facility is the implementation of all new gaming equipment, including Skee-Ball, a ball aiming game, skill games like electronic jump rope that give tickets, while retaining the classics that the center already had.

“When my dad first brought up the idea of ticket prizes I told him that would be awesome,” Shannon said. “I had never been to The Zone in Rolla, and I decided to go, and I ended up spending an ungodly amount of money, and I maybe got a little over 100 tickets. However, I know my four-year-old had a blast and that’s what it is about. Then we brought these in and I was like, wait a minute, I don’t have to spend the money on the gas to go to Rolla. He’s having just as much fun and on top of that he can bowl if he wants to. And (as a parent) I can be over here playing pool while he is trying to win tickets. We have seen a lot more families coming in just because of (the games).”

The Salem Bowling Center also offers employment opportunities to multiple people in the area, some of them having been with the facility since the beginning. Jesse “Mac” Hudson, the “other brother” as Shannon refers to him as, is a co-manager within the facility, step-sisters Mackenzie and Ashley, Eugene with maintenance, and various local teenagers and young adults that are in the position “before they run off to college or go into the military,” Shannon said.

“That is so hard for us. It is a sport, it’s in the Olympics! There are national leagues and scholarships (for teens) in bowling. We already have kids with accounts from (United States Bowling Congress) that they will place money in if they place in tournaments. We ourselves have a scholarship.” she said.

On top of the new games, new smoke-free policy and, of course, the bowling, the Salem Bowling Center offers many other services. This includes a professional shop for those wanting to purchase their own equipment, a full menu food bar with a variety of options, pool and foosball tables, birthday party rentals of space and for games, a modern music streaming box that allows you to pick from a massive selection of music and upcoming tournaments and leagues for individuals of all ages.

Summer Leagues, which begin the second week of May, offer opportunities for players to compete in a fun environment that supports local business. Each league is themed, ranging from Battle of the Sexes with teams consisting of only males or only females, youth league with teams consisting of two adults and two youth, senior leagues, mixed leagues and even leagues where two games are played in the dark.

“It is a small-town mentality,” Shannon said. “We service not just Salem, but also Houston, Licking and all our surrounding areas. Most of our people we call family. This is family. Everybody who walks in those doors becomes part of the Salem Bowling Center family, and that’s the way you have to look at it. We love this small town and this community.”