In the Spotlight - The Alley

Last Updated on Jul 7, 2015 at 4:19pm | Tourism & Recreation

"In The Spotlight!" is a regular feature of The Lake-Front magazine and is being reprinted here in its entirety with permission. This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.
 
 
Looking for a fun, affordable family activity? Check out the newly renovated family fun center known as The Alley, located in Oakland, Maryland. Open daily, The Alley offers state-of-the-art bowling, arcade games, and delicious food and family fun for all ages and abilities.
 
The Alley just celebrated its one year anniversary, but has already become a go-to destination for both locals and visitors. Owners Gary and Tiffany Blackden have not only started a business based on a model that met their needs and goals as entrepreneurs, but have also created a family destination and space that meets the needs of a community they now call home. Gary and Tiffany, who hail from New Hampshire and Virginia respectively, met when they worked as massage therapists in Northern Virginia, then moved to Fort Collins, Colorado where they were both very involved in local professional and civic organizations.
 
After the birth of their two children, Ellie and Max, they knew they wanted a business where they could involve their children and bring community together. They also wanted a family friendly area to live in, but also looked for one with clean air and water for their children. Son Max has Mast Cell Activation Syndrome which makes it very difficult for his body to synthesize chemicals and both children have severe allergies. “We dedicated ourselves for three years of research to improve their health,” says Gary. “We changed our diet, household products, cleaning products and body products in order to support our health, and Tiffany ended up going to a medical conference to share about our holistic approach and healing. We now carry some of our nontoxic living into the center as well. We use more natural cleaning products and don’t use toxic air fresheners, that cause allergic reactions and even asthma attacks in some people.”
 
Once they decided on Garrett County as their future home, they began scouting out sites for their dream of a family fun center. They purchased land in McHenry to be close to Deep Creek Lake activities, but during their research visited the one existing bowling alley in the area, Par-Matt Lanes. Although still in operation, the building and equipment was run-down and the owners agreed to sell, so Gary and Tiffany decided to purchase their existing building and put the McHenry plans on hold.
 
The Alley offers the only 10-pin bowling lanes in the area, which have been completely rehabbed and updated with all new Brunswick Bowling Equipment. To make your Alley experience a full sporting event they even added 21 television screens and three 180” projection screens so patrons can watch sporting events while they play.
 
The Alley is kid friendly. “We have rentals shoes for toddlers (starting at size 7), six pound weight balls for little fingers, ramps and automatic bumpers to make it easy for even the youngest members of your family to enjoy bowling,” says Tiffany. They also have shoes up to Men’s Size 18 and have a sock rental if all you have on your feet is flip-flops. Never bowled or need a refresher course? Try one of their Bowling 2.0 courses this summer. Offered Mondays in July and August with classes for both youth and adults, this is a great way to learn skills and bowling etiquette to make the most of The Alley’s great features. They also remodeled the restaurant and created a family friendly menu of great food like fries, nachos, wings, burgers, hot dogs, salads, and pizza. They also have plenty of sweet treats available like fresh baked cookies and ice cream, as well as beer and wine for the adults in the group. With fresh, delicious food and daily lunch specials, many locals have made The Alley their favorite place just to grab a meal. “Because the kitchen is open until 9:30 p.m. daily Monday through Saturday, we often get a late dinner crowd,” says Tiffany. “People come in to watch their favorite sports teams on the big screens.”
 
As part of their philosophy of giving back and networking within their community, the Blackdens used local labor as much as possible during their remodel and listened carefully to their customers and employees as to how they can better serve our area. They currently employ nine people, with even more hired in the winter. As business grows, so can the facility. They already have space to possibly expand and add even more bowling lanes and arcade games.
 
The Alley offers several different bowling leagues year round including options for men, women, doubles, seniors, and mixed. Monday is Family Fun Day where you can receive four bowling games, four shoe rentals, one cheese or pepperoni pizza, and a pitcher of soda for just $29.99. You can also check out $2 Tuesday where all bowling games are just $2.
 
The Blackden’s goal has always been to provide a safe, positive, and fun environment for Garrett County youth. Because they are so close to Southern High School they have implemented a policy of free pool, shuffleboard, and ping pong games with any other purchase during the school year. So The Alley has become a gathering place for area kids…a safe, friendly place where they can relax with other friends and have fun.
 
The Party Room makes The Alley a perfect place for company meetings, holiday get-togethers, even team building exercises. They can accommodate groups and events of all sizes, from small gatherings and meetings, to fundraisers and parties for more than 200 people, and even have a party coordinator to take care of all the details. Their Birthday Bowling Blast is highly popular and includes an hour of bowling, $5 arcade card for each child, pizza and soda, plus decorations and clean-up! They also have Cosmic Premium Parties that include cosmic lights and a dance party atmosphere.
 
The Alley has hosted various fund-raisers here, including the Cub Scout Food Drive and fundraisers for 4H groups, local sports teams, and The House of Hope. They currently have several fundraisers planned, including Black Tie Bowling for The Dove Center and Flashback 80’s Bowling for Hospice. Even Special Olympics games have been conducted here. In addition, they conducted one of the incentive programs for middle school age children based on not only grades, but attendance and attitude.
 
In Fort Collins, where the couple owned several businesses, they were both very active in their Chamber of Commerce and led various networking groups. “We’re all about connecting people, creating handshakes,” says Gary. And that’s one of the things they’re trying to create at The Alley and through other endeavors. The couple has hosted several coffees to connect area business people, especially younger entrepreneurs, and have started a group on Social Media called Western Maryland Business Network where local business owners can join and promote their services to their peers.
 
“We need to increase awareness about how things work in our community,” says Tiffany. “Sharing resources, ideas, and collaborative efforts within a professional and personal network allows more people to be invested in the future.” Other areas they hope to explore include greater mentoring with their staff and possibly a business / student networking system where our high school students can learn directly from local business owners about a field he or she may be interested in.
 
While their plans for the McHenry space are on hold while they focus attention on The Alley, the couple do have plans to build more of their family fun centers up and down the east coast. “This model works, and we know we can take it and create community based businesses in other areas,’ says Gary.
 
The Alley is located at 499 Oakland Drive and is open Monday through Saturday from noon until 10 p.m. (kitchen open until 9:30) and Sunday from noon to 8:00 p.m. The kitchen is open daily for dine in or carry out, and the full menu can be seen online at their website www.partyatthealley.com. You can also like them on Facebook or Twitter to get unannounced daily specials. See you at The Alley!