On Sunday Mike Sepelak came to visit the Hillsborough Street bowling alley one more time to snap a few pictures and reminisce before it closed for good.
The final frames at The Alley were bowled on Saturday night. But on Sunday, the building was filled with people hoping to buy a bowling pin, have one last beer and bid on an assortment of items up for auction, including wood from the lanes, old photographs, and orange-and-white seats.
A portion of the auction’s proceeds were donated to the foundation for Chris Combs, 41, a former N.C. State baseball player who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in May.
The Alley, 2512 Hillsborough St., is being closed to make way for a Target store.
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Sepelak, 62, now lives in Pittsboro, and the short drive back to The Alley was also a trip back in time. Being back at the 24-lane bowling center reminded him of the perfect game he bowled in 1983, and his earliest memories in the 1965 juniors league as an 11-year-old.
“I grew up in this bowling alley,” he said.
When Sepelak became a student at N.C. State University, he worked nights behind the pin-setting machines. As a new student he struggled in some classes, but aced the bowling class he took for a physical education credit.
“My first three semesters, that was the only ‘A’ I got,” he said.
The final bowling classes ended last week.
Former bowling student Kurt Saenger-Heyl stopped by Sunday to buy a bowling pin for his new home in Baltimore. Saenger-Heyl graduated in 2014 and was visiting family in Raleigh for Thanksgiving. He said that many nights were spent at The Alley with friends and was sorry to see it go.
“There’s a lot of good, fond memories that were made here,” he said. “It’s a piece of Hillsborough (Street) that we will never get back.”
Since announcing that The Alley would close, owner Chris Poole said he’s had an influx of customers hoping to bowl one last game and drink cheap beer, while reminiscing about the hangout which dates back to the 1960s.
“We’ve had about hour-and-a-half waits every night since we announced the closing,” Poole said. “It’s been crazy, but it’s been awesome to see everyone come back.”
The Alley isn’t disappearing for good, said Poole, who co-owns the business with his brother. It will reopen next summer in Durham’s Liberty Warehouse on Foster Street, as a smaller eight-lane bowling alley with an expanded dining room that serves upscale bar food.
The closing of The Alley represents another change to Hillsborough Street, which has seen plenty of redevelopment in recent years.
Beth Holmes, 31, who came in to browse the items being auctioned and buy bowling pins for Christmas gifts, said the street has changed since she graduated from N.C. State almost a decade ago.
The influx of new businesses and apartment buildings has continued to change Hillsborough Street’s appearance, and new and future development could take away a bit the area’s unique character, she said.
“I think some of us want to see it with that older feel,” she said.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi