Nick Paxinos and his partner John Ryan never stop trying to revitalize Woodmere Bowling Lanes, making it one of the few bowling centers in the area to not only survive, but to thrive.
“Over the years, a lot of bowling centers have gone out. I think it’s because there’s so many more options of other things to do these days,” Paxinos said. “The industry never kept up, as far as captivating the kids.”
Not content to rest on his laurels, Paxinos said that despite several successful improvements that have been instituted in recent years, he’s always thinking of ways to enhance the business even more and to keep up with changing times. Besides upgrading the scoring system and seating, a major change that has paid off was to allow eating and drinking in the bowling area, which he said was an industry-wide change.
“Since we have a big bar, we’ve always had a pretty big menu,” he said. “Without a doubt, food sales have increased since we relaxed the eating and drinking policy.”
An increased focus on hosting a wider variety of parties and events has proved to be an important source of revenue for the business and solidified its status as the go-to place for fun in the Five Towns, thanks to the adjoining Backstage Nite Club. It has become a very popular place to book bar mitzvahs, birthdays, reunions and sweet 16’s. Even a wedding has been held there.
“The spectrum of things we can do is so wide,” Paxinos said. “You can have a bowling party and then continue it with a DJ in the bar. Hewlett High School seniors host their own non-alcoholic costume party every year, and Lynbrook High School does an after-prom party every year. What I would like to do more of is to have one big party that flows back and forth from the bar to the bowling alley, as one big place. Most of the time, it’s two separate places doing two separate things.”
Although both partners are owners of the entire business, for the most part, Paxinos oversees the bowling alley, and Ryan focuses on the night club. It is one corporation that is often run like two separate businesses. On New Year’s Eve, a comedy night event was held in the club, while a holiday party was going on in the bowling alley.
“That’s what makes us unique, and it helps financially,” Paxinos said. “We’ve been able to have each side of the business pull the cart when necessary. Most bowling centers don’t have that option. They only have one horse pulling the cart.”
Although bowling has lost some of its popularity in the past decade or two, Paxinos sees it as one of the few activities that family members of all ages can enjoy together.
“Bowling is generational,” he said. “Where else can a grandfather, father and son all play something together? We’ve even had four generations on an alley a few times.”
The bowling alley, located at 948 Broadway, has been around since the mid 1950s. The Backstage, originally called The Spare Room, was initially much smaller, but expanded into a very big club over the years. It has a dance floor, pool tables, a large seating area, projection television, air hockey and a stage where local bands perform and customers can belt one out on karaoke night.
The two owners have literally grown up at the alleys, with Paxinos starting out there 31 years ago doing odd jobs after school at the age of 14, and Ryan working there since he was 11. Ryan, who was not available for comment, was part of the family who originally owned the place. He became a partner first, and then Paxinos bought into the business about eight years ago.
Paxinos considers the business as much a community center as a recreation center, and he strives to reach out to more local organizations and schools. He said that part of the business’ success is its ability to draw people from different cultures as the community changes over the years, like with its recent kosher comedy night event.
He also prides himself on his charity work and his belief in giving back to the community. For many years, he has provided Thanksgiving meals to families in need, including those in Far Rockaway, where he grew up. The owners also organized a Toys for Tots fundraiser, where 100 gifts were distributed to underprivileged kids. Paxinos also makes donations to Kulanu to help fund programs for special needs children, and he offered them free bowling during the recent school break. He said that this kind of community outreach is what makes Woodmere Lanes special.
“Nick has always been extremely accommodating to these kids, whether it’s our camp or the respite program,” said Kulanu Director Jonathan Cooper. “He always makes our kids feel very included and welcome. Out of the blue, he called me to offer us the use of the bowling alley at no charge during the holiday break.”
Paxinos confesses that when he first started at Woodmere Lanes, he really didn’t know how to bowl. But over the years he kept at it and began coaching the Hewlett High School bowling team about 16 years ago. As someone with a teaching degree, it is not surprising that he finds coaching these kids the most rewarding part of the job. He has formed strong bonds with the students and stayed in touch with several of them even after they graduated.
Both of the owners’ wives are very involved in the business, which provides great support to them and a family feeling to the business, according to Paxinos.
But the combination of Paxinos’ drive to continually enhance the facility and its events, along with his exceptional rapport with customers is what makes the business really flourish. He is a hands-on owner-operator and self-described “people person.”
Nancy Chisholm, of East Rockaway, can attest to that.
“Nick is a really nice guy and a good manager,” said Chisholm, whose son has been part of a youth league for several years. “He’s always very friendly and helpful. [Woodmere Lanes is] a great place to spend an afternoon, because it’s run very well and he always makes you feel so welcome.”