Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Chris Brose’s career as a bowling alley proprietor was less about opportunity and more about expectation.
“When I was finishing high school, I had some interest in horticulture,” Brose said. “But my dad, seeing the nature of things, said, ‘You’re coming to work with me, boy.”
Brose’s dad, Bob, and two partners opened El-Ra Bowl in Janesville in 1959. Chris, a Parker High School graduate who is now 57, was taught at a young age how to do his part in the family business.
“I started my training under the tutelage of Rosey Kemp (Vine) and was learning how to sling drinks when I was 18—even though Elmer Silbernagl (one of the other original owners) had me making martinis for the ancient gals in the Imperial Lounge when I was 6ish,” Brose said. “The rest is history.”
Chris has three brothers—John, Kurt and Gary—and one sister, Kathy, who all have worked at El Ray at one point or another. Chris’ own family includes his wife of 35 years, Denise, and five kids—Ben, Rob, Rich, Duncan and Dan.
To learn more about El Ra, stop by the alley at 1942 Center Ave., Janesville, visit ElRaBowl.com or call 608-757-3020.
1. What’s your favorite bowling-related film? Why do you say that? None. “Kingpin” is the only one I can think of, and I didn’t like it too much. It had a negative view of bowling as a sport, to which the Dude can’t abide. Is “The Big Lebowski” a choice?
2. When I was a younger, league bowling for kids, adults and couples was a big deal. In your experience, has the level of involvement increased, stayed the same or declined? The level of involvement obviously has declined due to overall societal changes, much more competition for recreational time and dollars, and an explosion in choices for what to do with your free time.
3. You have bumper bowling and glow bowling at El Ra Bowl. What other steps have you taken to help bowling remain a popular pastime? Reinvesting profits back into our center. Folks want to have a modern, like-new place to hang. We fancy El Ra as the south-side country club. Also, we put a lot of effort into youth bowling, in-school bowling programs, youth leagues and tournaments, high school bowling and adult/youth leagues. Some people think youth are the future ...
4. In your experience, what’s more common: picking up a 7-10 split or rolling a 300 game? 300 game, hands down. Lane conditions and modern balls have made hitting the pocket with authority more likely. 7—10 conversions are nearly impossible. The odds are better of a lucky bounce out of the pit.
5. What is your most prized possession? Health. My family’s and friends’ health as well as my own.
6. You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I like to vary my activities, but I always enjoy listening to and learning about music.
7. What is one item you simply couldn’t live without? Laughter. I can’t imagine a life without a fair dose of levity.
8. Let’s talk lane wax. Why is it so important, and how often does it have to be applied? Wax? You’re killing me, Schmalz! Oil reduces friction. Oil applied in a certain (top secret) fashion can give the ball guidance. In recreational bowling, this equals maximum guidance within the rules. When bowling is a sport, it provides contestants with a varying degree of challenge. Depending on our schedule, we will oil between 1 to 3 times per day.
9. What’s the one pizza topping you absolutely won’t touch? That topping doesn’t exist.
10. What fruit or vegetable do you absolutely hate? Not too fond of Brussels sprouts that are boiled for an hour and served with vinegar.
11. What was your first car, and how did you get it? ‘68 Nova. Paid $500, drove it for a year, got hit by another vehicle, got $500 in insurance money and drove it for another year. Then I traded it in for $300 bucks. Yes, I’m a little frugal.
12. In your opinion, is bowling a sport or a pastime? Bowling is both. You can go bowling just for fun with no pressure and have a great time. Competitive bowling requires much skill including hand/eye coordination, accuracy, consistency, endurance, experience with lane play, etc.
13. What are the things I need to consider when I’m in the market for a new bowling ball? If you bowl mainly for fun, maybe you just want a ball that fits well and is a good weight for you. If that’s the case, and you don’t want to make it hook, then save your dough and go for a hard-plastic ball. They’re less expensive and are very durable. If you want to get the ball to hook and give you more power, then you want a performance ball. These come in several price points, all of which are more bucks than hard plastic.
14. When you think of the 1980s, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Got married, got kids, got a mortgage …. oh boy.
15. Who is the best bowler you’ve ever seen? Hard question. I am going to go with Earl Anthony. He was so smooth and accurate, had a simple game, and he simply won 43 titles.
16. Why are the rental shoes at bowling alleys always so ugly? A friend once told me it’s to keep people from stealing them. Your friend is correct. We want to have the rentals stand out, so if you lace ‘em up without renting them, we can call the C.S.I. (crappy shoe investigation) team.
17. Where is your favorite place to unwind? Quetico Provincial Park (in Northern Ontario, Canada). 1,800 square miles of wilderness. It’s a pain in the a#% to get there, but the beauty, sense of adventure and solitude is unmatched anywhere on the planet.
18. El Ra is a pretty unique name. How did it come about? Some people think it means “the sunny boliche” spot, but actually, the original owners were ELmer Silbernagl, RAy Shaughnessy and BOb Brose, thus the original logo was EL RA BOwl.
19. What was your first job? Worst job? Sorting empty beer bottles at The Evergreen, a 1960s tavern/restaurant that sat across the street from El Ra. Brown, clear, green, 7-ounce, 8-ounce, 12-ounce ... the idea of a marketing niche is not new. But as I think back right now, I can’t think of any that were too bad. I like to work. Of course, cleaning up bodily fluids ...
20. What’s the craziest bowling alley mishap you’ve ever seen? During the Janesville City Tournament in 1979. The lanes were inspected just prior to the first squad bowled and were found not to be compliant (an employee made a mistake with the antiquated oiler of the day) as the lanes were too dry. My dad went ballistic (there may have been a personality conflict with the inspector) There was no time to re-oil the lanes, so my dad’s solution was to take a bug sprayer and, standing from the foul line, douse the lanes with oil. There was a fog of oil in the air across all 16 lanes, and you had to squint to see the pins. It was unbelievable. You could not get the ball to wrinkle that day. I happen to have bowled in that 1st squad myself, and I had a 279 in the first game. It was the highest game of the tournament that year (but not the highest series, too bad).