MOORE — A concrete slab encircled by a 10-foot tall metal fence is all that is left of the AMF Moore Lanes bowling center.
Looking over the site from the parking lot just off the Interstate 35 service road, former Moore Lanes general manager Jon Fisher recalls how the May 20 tornado peeled off the building's metal roof like a sardine can. He points out where his office and the bowling lanes once stood.
“I won't cry — I'm too much of a macho guy, but it's a sad feeling,” Fisher said, noting that other businesses in the area have reopened or are in the process of rebuilding.
Construction is progressing at the nearby Tinker Federal Credit Union, which also was leveled in the storm. The tornado-damaged adjacent post office reopened this week.
While other surrounding businesses have reopened or are rebuilding after the May 20 tornado, bowlers and former bowling center employees have learned that AMF Moore Lanes will not be rebuilt. The bowling center had been open in Moore since the 1970s.
Blow to employees
It's a blow for former Moore Lanes employee Katie Stubblefield, who worked at the bowling center before the tornado. Her older brother and father had also worked there.
“To find out that it was gone for good was really sad for our family,” said Stubblefield. “A lot of my friends worked there — it's where I met my boyfriend of two years. There were a lot of memories there,” said Stubblefield, who began bowling at age 3.
Bowlmor AMF, which owned AMF Moore Lanes, sold the land where the bowling center once stood just northeast of Moore Warren Theatre in November for $1.2 million to a group of investors. The deed to the property stipulates that a bowling alley cannot be rebuilt on the land for at least 20 years after the sale — a common measure Bowlmor AMF takes to prevent creating new competition in the market.
Donald Kyte, manager for Apex Properties II LLC, which purchased the Moore Lanes property, said the investors would like to see the land — a valuable parcel given its location next to the popular Warren Theatre — redeveloped for some type of commercial use.
Bowlmor AMF declined to comment on the closure of Moore Lanes and would confirm only that the property had been sold.
The May 20 tornado destroyed the Moore Lanes site at a time of tumult for Bowlmor AMF. New York-based Bowlmor and Virginia-based AMF Bowling Worldwide Inc. were in the process of merging last spring. The merger was completed in July to create the largest operator of bowling centers in the world.
The merger was part of AMF's bankruptcy reorganization.
Fisher and two other employees fled the bowling alley in another manager's car just a few minutes before the May 20 tornado plowed through the building.
Employees initially thought they could ride out the storm by hiding inside the bowling machines, but decided to outrun the storm when local TV news reported that the tornado was headed directly for Moore Lanes.
Fisher tried to lock the doors as they fled the building.
“Don't even worry about it,” Fisher recalls his fellow manager telling him.
Fisher could see the massive funnel cloud approaching as they drove south toward Norman. When the workers returned, the building had been leveled.
Business, jobs gone
It took Fisher a week to find his car after the May 20 tornado — the storm scooped up the vehicle from the Moore Lanes parking lot and tossed it onto the other side of Interstate 35.
Although he's found temporary work as a part-time substitute teacher, Fisher is still in search of a more permanent position.
Moore Lanes employed 28 people, all of whom were laid off over the summer after the May 20 tornado. The company told the bowling center employees only that Moore Lanes would be closed for the foreseeable future, several employees said.
“The company didn't tell us anything,” said former AMF Moore Lanes assistant manager Jo Hess said. “There was no communication on what they were going to do, or whether they were going to rebuild.”
Hess has since taken a tax course and will begin working at H&R Block for the upcoming tax season.
Stubblefield was able to transfer to the AMF Windsor Lanes bowling center near NW 23 Street and Meridian in Oklahoma City, but the commute was too long and she quit after a few months to work at a Moore restaurant.
Although the company gave the Moore Lanes employees generous severance packages that included payouts for all of the workers' accrued vacation time plus two extra weeks of paid leave on top of additional severance pay in some cases, many workers felt like they were never given answers from the company as to why the center would not be rebuilt, several former employees said.
“AMF didn't owe us any explanation, but some of us felt like we had earned an explanation,” Fisher said.