Ashley Musel and Eric Braun are the new owners of Valley Lanes in Spring Valley.
Ashley Musel and Eric Braun are the new owners of Valley Lanes in Spring Valley.
Although Eric Braun practically grew up in the bowling alley, he and Ashley Musel struck a spontaneous decision last August to purchase Valley Lanes in downtown Spring Valley.

"I slept underneath the bar - we had beds under there if we got tired - because we were here from the time my parents opened at noon until 10 or 11 at night," said Braun, new co-proprietor of Valley Lanes, where he and his brother, Ryan, grew up as their parents, Keith and Geri Braun, kept the bowling balls rolling and the pins set up for bowlers on their six-lane alley.

Eric and his girlfriend, Musel, bought the bowling alley from his mother - now Geri Riehl, remarried after Keith died several years ago - in August, taking over after she spent the past 28 years hearing strikes, spares and gutter balls on the lanes. Geri attempted to sell the bowling alley for a while before her son made an offer.

"My mom was trying to sell it for a couple years before, had a few people look at it, but the decision to buy it was pretty much Ashley's," said Braun. "She had mentioned it a couple times, but it pretty much meant she had to quit her job."

Musel said, "It was spontaneous - I was on my way to work one morning, and I called Eric and told him we should buy it. I have no idea why. It just kind of popped up in my head."

Braun cited that sentiment won him over, since his earliest memories were of his parents working hard at their business. "When she said that there had been some people looking...as soon as my mom said that people wanted to buy it, I didn't want to see it go to anybody out of the family, town or state."

He calls being the owner "a little bit strange, because I never really even looked at buying it until Ashley said something...we had decent jobs and I knew I had to keep working, but she would have to give up her job if we did this." Also, he admitted, "I still don't know everything. I grew up here, but I'm still learning. When I worked here, I was young enough that we just worked here, and I had to find a job when I got older. I still have a job at AB Systems in Rochester doing steel construction all over the state, in Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin."

Musel and Braun fully understand the commitment they've made to the business, as Musel quit her job at Avis-Budget Rental at the Rochester International Airport to be available at the bowling alley each day, where she noted "it's a lot of work...there's always something that comes up, you run into something every day."

Braun related that his parents closed the bowling alley each summer from the time school got out to Labor Day "because that was their vacation. The reason they took off is that they never hired anyone to help. That was their vacation because they were here seven days a week for nine months straight."

The alley will now be open year round, though hours are still negotiable, and there's now a full bar available throughout the day.

"I knew what kind of business we had here in a small town, and so I put in a bar. That definitely helped," said Braun.

The couple hopes to make the bowling alley a destination in the community. Musel stated, "We'd like to be more involved in the community a little more. We have two boys who like to bowl - Cohen is 3 and Harper is 1 - and we want other kids to grow up here, too."

Currently, Valley Lanes has one men's league, a couple of women's leagues, two mixed leagues and a senior league, but Braun would like to start youth bowling programs, as he recalls his school physical education classes coming to the bowling alley for a week each year, something that doesn't happen anymore. "It would be nice if we had youth bowling programs because that's where the bowlers start...they start young. We're doing some youth bowling classes right now, for fourth through sixth graders, and we've done some for first through third graders."

Musel outlined the special bowling promotions they plan to incorporate. "One of the things we'll be doing soon is a lucky pin - if you get a strike on the green pin, you get to spin the wheel for a prize. We do a lot of birthday parties here, too."

Braun and Musel's tentative "someday" expansion plan is to perhaps add on a restaurant, but for now, they're happy with a new pool table in the entrance, the bar bringing in customers throughout the day, offering appetizers and pizzas, pulltabs in cooperation with the Kingsland Athletic Booster Club, and locker rental.

"We have a few different options we're looking at, like adding on a restaurant...that's in the future, and the future changes," said Braun. "The full bar definitely brings in a different crowd, people who like to have a couple cocktails, bowl a couple games with their friends. We haven't changed much. We're trying to keep everything the same, just add a few things."

Valley Lanes, located at 208 S. Broadway, has open bowling from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and all day on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Leagues are also available. Bowling costs $3 per lane, shoes are $1 to rent, and bowling balls are available for free. For more information, call 346-7661.