Saying goodbye to The Alley
For the past 33 years, Henry Kidd has greeted students in his N.C. State bowling classes the same way: “Good morning! It’s a beautiful day!”
His enthusiasm, and his deep Southern drawl, fill The Alley, a 24-lane bowling center that has been a fixture on Hillsborough Street for five decades.
Kidd, 64, will teach his last bowling class Tuesday, four days before The Alley will close to make way for a new Target store. He found out in August this would be his final semester to teach young people how to maintain proper posture as they spin a ball down the lane in hopes of a strike.
The Alley has seen an influx of customers who want to bowl and drink cheap beer since owner Chris Poole announced earlier this month the business would close. Many want to reminisce about the hangout, which never upgraded to electronic score-keeping equipment and is known for its hardwood lanes.
“It’s hard. There are so many memories here,” Poole said. “It’s definitely sad.”
On Sunday, a silent auction at The Alley will feature bowling balls and shoes and also wood from the lanes. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the foundation for Chris Combs, a former N.C. State baseball player who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in May.
For Kidd and his students – and for so many others who enjoy the gritty atmosphere – saying goodbye to The Alley marks a bittersweet ending.
“I’m sad,” said Kidd, who has been teaching at N.C. State since 1983 and will continue to teach other physical education classes. “I will miss it. It’s been so much fun.”
During Kidd’s classes, students are required to put away their cellphones and focus on the game. He doesn’t just talk about bowling techniques. This is also about life lessons.
“Find a partner – you don’t want to walk through life alone,” Kidd told his class of 28 students Thursday.
As students sent balls hurtling down the lanes, perfecting their rotation and jotting down their scores on paper sheets, he walked from group to group to correct their posture and offer encouraging words.
“He’s really upbeat. If you’re not having a good day, he’ll try to cheer you up,” said Caroline Dunn, a freshman. “He tries to get to know all of his students.”
The closing of The Alley, which opened in the 1960s as Western Lanes, represents yet another change on Hillsborough Street, which has seen plenty of redevelopment in recent years.
Critics say the thoroughfare through N.C. State’s campus is losing its character. The International House of Pancakes, housed in an A-frame, blue-roofed structure on Hillsborough Street since 1968, closed last spring and reopened on the ground floor of a new apartment building nearby.
Inside The Alley, black-and-white photos of Hillsborough Street from a different era adorn the walls.
Most of Kidd’s students are too young to remember those days. But many said their parents, relatives or family friends had bowled at The Alley or taken Kidd’s class.
Kidd often keeps several $1 and $5 bills in his pocket. If students roll three strikes in a row in bowling or hit a 100-foot putt in his golf class, they may win money.
Former students have contacted him to say they framed the bills, many of them autographed by Kidd at their request.
“I sign everything ‘Coach K’ because I was doing this long before the other guy got here,” Kidd said, taking a jab at Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. “He just stole my name.”
In 1981, Kidd taught his first bowling class at Lockhart Sixth Grade Center, which later became Lockhart Elementary School in Knightdale. At the time he was working toward a master’s degree in physical education at East Carolina University.
As a physical education teacher, he used plastic bowling pins and rubber balls to teach students the game. Several times during a semester, they would take a bus to a bowling alley.
The children learned simple mathematics, including geometry, while having fun, Kidd said. Two years later, in 1983, he joined the faculty at N.C. State.
“I found that a lot of what I do with 20-year-olds is the same thing I did with 12-year-olds,” he said. “We love to play.”
Kidd estimates that he has taught 17,000 students overall. Of those, he figures 7,000 learned how to bowl.
Peyton Wood, a freshman, enrolled in Kidd’s bowling class this fall. Every Thursday, he spends several hours at The Alley after class, practicing the techniques Kidd taught him.
Wood described Kidd as “the most energetic old person I have ever met.”
“I just love the class and I really enjoy bowling,” Wood said.
Dana Haddad, a senior who will graduate in December, said the course is much harder than she expected.
“I thought it would be a breeze,” she said. “It’s the one class I haven’t skipped all semester, because I can’t afford to.”
‘Willingness to change’
Lena Cox of Raleigh has been visiting The Alley since 1992, when she was a freshman at N.C. State. She went on dates there and more recently has taken her kids to check it out.
“I’m just so sad to see it go, I might cry,” Cox said. “It’s one of those places that you think will be around forever.”
The Alley isn’t completely going away. Poole, who co-owns the business with his brother, plans to open a bowling alley by next summer in Durham at the Liberty Warehouse on Foster Street, near the Durham Farmers’ Market.
Poole has said he hopes to downsize to eight lanes and have an expanded dining room that serves upscale bar food.
It’s a drastic change from the current spot, which has a giant mural of bowling pins and features old orange-and-white seats. Some students say they’re disappointed to see The Alley leave.
“You can go to a Target anywhere, but that doesn’t have these memories,” said Alexey Fayuk, a junior.
But Kidd is looking ahead, and he hopes students will continue to learn from his words of wisdom he weaves into his classes.
“On the first day, I tell them I need two things: your willingness to change, which is hard, and patience from you to give that change a chance,” Kidd said.
On Thursday, Kidd’s students took off their bowling shoes and filed out of The Alley. Change is hard sometimes.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler