After 42 years in the duckpin bowling business, Tuffy Leemans' Glenmont Lanes will be closing permanently in August, said owner Diane Kelly.
The news saddened patrons who have been bowling there for years. But the financial burden became too much for Kelly, who had been operating the business for 23 years after her father, New York Giants Hall of Famer Alphonse "Tuffy" Leemans, died.
"It [was] getting harder and harder to keep up with ... but when you can't pay the rent, you can't pay the rent," Kelly said.
Kelly reminisced about days when the bowling alley was packed with moms and a babysitter hired by the lanes watched the children.
"It's our times these days," she said. "Nothing is like it used to be."
The bowling industry itself is hurting, Kelly said, citing that multiple bowling houses in Baltimore were closing as well.
"We've lost a lot of [bowling] houses in the Washington area," said Marge Chaney, the executive director of the National Duckpin Bowling Congress.
Chaney blames many losses on rising land values and landlords upping the rent to the point where the bowling alleys cannot afford to pay.
"The income wasn't there and expenses kept going up," Kelly said.
Many of the Glenmont alley's regular patrons were shocked by the news about the bowling alley some affectionately refer to as "Tuffy's Place."
"We've been bowling here forever," said Mary Highland, 85, who has been bowling at the Glenmont for 30 years.
"They've been like a family here," said Highland, a Silver Spring resident who participates in a senior bowling league. Highland said she was sad to see the place go, where she had formed many close friendships over the years.
Others said they considered "Tuffy's Place" to be a historic landmark for the Glenmont area.
"To the people here in the Wheaton area, it is a landmark," said Clara Andonian, a Glenmont resident who has been bowling at the alley since the day it opened in 1960.
"It's been a close-knit family tradition," said Andonian, 70. "We raised our kids here. We were bowling when Tuffy Leeman was here.
"It was part of our family, and I am going to miss all the friends and camaraderie that I had here through all the years," said Andonian, after cleaning out her bowling locker.
While some bowlers vowed to quit forever after the alley closed and some planned to bowl elsewhere, others hoped for a miracle.
"I'm hoping someone will buy it and keep it going," said Mary Ann Fellows, who had bowled at "Tuffy's Place" for 28 years.
"We're all hoping something will work out and the alley will stay open," said Evelyn Lambart, who regularly traveled from Potomac to bowl at "Tuffy's."
However, the harsh reality still remains: the bowling alley plans to close sometime in August, said Kelly.
"I want to walk on out of here after 42 years with my head held high," said a teary-eyed Kelly, who came to break the news to her patrons and friends in person. "I held on as long as I possibly could."