Sunday, August 03

GREAT BARRINGTON — As a 12-year-old, Michael Hankey used to sweep the parking lot and oil the 24 bowling alleys at Cove Lanes for owner Gordon "Fred" McIntyre. In return, he got unlimited video game time. His brother, Thomas, also worked there in the 1990s.

Now, the brothers, with their aunt, Juanita O'Rourke, are themselves becoming owners of the recreational venue on Stockbridge Road. The trio bought it from McIntyre for $2.5 million, from McIntyre, and will run it themselves.

"We've known Fred a long time and he was happy to be selling to somebody familiar," said Michael Hankey.

They they financed the purchase with loans from Greylock Federal Credit Union and the federal Small Business Admin-istration. The 26,000-square-foot building also houses indoor miniature golf, a video arcade, concession stand and 75-seat lounge.

Michael lives in Lee with his wife Sheila. They also own Northstar Video, a few blocks south on State Road.

Thomas, who lives with his wife in Great Barrington, will hold the title of president.

"My wife knew this was a dream of mine to own the Cove," he said .

O'Rourke also got instant spousal approval.

"There was no hesitation from my husband," said the former real estate broker of 30 years.

She and her husband, Kevin, ran a restaurant in Chatham, N.Y. for 14 years and still live across the New York border in Austerlitz.

The timing was right for Michael Hankey, too.

He lost his job of 10 years at Fox River Paper Co.'s Rising Mill in Housatonic when the new owners closed the factory last year.

He filled the job void by working at the Stockbridge Golf Club, until the Cove Lanes sale closed on May 23.

"This business allows all three of us to use our strengths together," said O'Rourke who is now the Cove Lanes' treasurer and bookkeeper.

"Michael takes care of all the equipment and maintenance, Tom knows how to run a bowling alley and I'm strong with numbers,"she said.

Others in the family pitch in as needed.

"One day we were getting slammed at the concession stand," said O'Rourke, "so my husband — who vowed never to cook for the public again — grabbed a spatula and began flipping burgers!"

Four veteran Cove Lanes employees make-up the seven full and part-timers on the pay roll: J.R. Kellogg, Darryl "DJ" Marks, Jamie Zigler, and Tony Ferraro.

"This business requires lots of hands from a lot of people you can trust," added O'Rourke.

They want to see more families and new players bowling.

"A focus on the younger generation is needed," said Thomas Hankey. "We are having more birthday parties in the lounge and some of the lanes are equipped with bumpers and other gadgets to help the younger bowlers."

He said sign-ups for fall leagues have begun, as a summer of successful programs begins to wrap up.

"You don't have to be a good bowler to join a league," he added.

McIntyre bought the Cove Lanes in 1978, sold it in 2001, and then bought it back two years ago.

The new owners said he left it in great shape, but they plan their own improvements.

The lounge will be upgraded by September into a sports bar, with a 52" flat screen television, new furniture and pub style menu. The mini golf is getting new "greens" and carpeting for the two-tier 18-hole course.

The Cove Lanes will continue to hold already established fundraising tournaments for the Sheffield Kiwanis Club in November and Great Barrington Rotary Club in February.

This weekend, the Cove is hosting a benefit tournament for Abby Rossi, a young local girl who recently underwent open heart surgery. The tournament continues today (Sunday) at 1 p.m.

"I don't see this as a job, but a fun place to be and a chance to give back to the community," said Thomas Hankey.