Article by Jennifer Eisenbart, Burlington Standard Press
Article originally appeared in the Burlington Standard Press on January 30, 2008 and celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Towne & Country Lanes.

Over the years, Towne and Country Lanes' owner Merrill Draper has learned a lesson - perhaps the most important lesson of all in small-town America.

Draper, who has owned the bowling alley since 1971, purchased Surfside Lanes in Kenosha six years later. He hired a manager for Towne and Country so he could spend time getting his new purchase ready.

His small-town Burlington residents weren't ready to see their owner spend time elsewhere. "I learned an important lesson," explains Draper, who then hired a manager for Surfside and eventually sold it. "Due to the time I had to spend there, we started getting reaction from the customers. They felt like we didn't care if we weren't here."

Draper quickly changed his tune, and came back to Burlington. His bowlers haven't forgotten that.

"The people that run it are very good at communicating with the people who come in there to bowl," explains Bob Friend Sr., the eldest member of a three-generation bowling family at T&C Lanes. "They're generous, and they've got a big heart."

Towne and Country Lanes celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and still resides in the same building in which it began in 1958. The business has changed owners over the years, most notably when Draper and his wife purchased it in 1971. Since then, Draper and his wife, Lorraine, along with daughter Theresa Riemer, have had a hand in almost everything that has happened at Towne and Country Lanes. And not only do they have a hands-on approach, but they know all of the 1,000-plus bowlers who call Towne and Country home.

"It's a very good experience," says Riemer. "It's very rewarding, because of the fact you get to know so many people. "You make friends for life." With the business remaining in family hands, Draper and Riemer have had a chance to watch the trends over the years.

Growing up with her parents owning T&C Lanes, Riemer found herself immediately involved with helping out. She's done everything from waitressing to working the counter to working in the office, saying that, essentially, she grew up at the business. "It's a great learning experience," explains Riemer, who is now the general manager. "Being that we're in such a smaller town . . . getting the hands-on knowledge, you can't beat that."

Riemer spent time working in radio broadcasting after high school and college. She went back to school and became a dental assistant for several years, but never really left behind the family business. "No matter what I did on the side . . . I was always working here," she explains.

A few years ago, she met her husband, Jerry, and the two found it the right time to become more involved in the business. She became general manager, while her husband is the food and beverage manager. There are a total of 30 employees at the alley, many of whom are part-time.

Most of the work is handled by the Drapers and the Riemers. "There's nothing here that I've personally never been able to do," Draper says. "As an owner, if you just go out to hire people to do those things, they don't get done, they don't get done the way they should get done."

Trends have changed over the years. Bowling experienced peak interest in the late 70s, but since has struggled to maintain its base. Riemer says that economics play a huge role in running the alley, from the outside costs of oil and electricity running down to affect prices at the alley. "Everything can always be better," Riemer says. "We're trying to do a lot of things to bring people in."

Among the various different programs that Towne and Country Lanes offers are junior and high school leagues, Cosmic Bowling - a weekend, "come have fun" experience - and catering to anyone and everyone who wants to bowl. Towne and Country also has hosted several competition-atmosphere events, including a Friday TV league and the Lions State Bowling tournament in 2005. But while interest has declined over the years - Riemer estimates the number of leagues at their peak at 40-plus with numerous teams, vs. numbers in the 30s now with fewer teams in each - T&C Lanes has developed several three-generation bowling families. This perhaps, above all else, symbolizes the success the Drapers have sown in the community.

Among the three-generation families are the Drapers themselves, whose daughters have bowled and now have grandchildren involved. Friend also has watched his son and grandson become bowlers as well. The appeal of the sport, along with the homegrown family atmosphere at T&C Lanes, keeps people like Betty Wilson - a 50-year bowler - coming back. "We don't like to go too far," explains Wilson, who bowls along with her husband Bob. "We've gone through all the owners and managers. Lorraine and Merrill are terrific. And (Lorraine's) daughter, Theresa is very nice.

"If anything goes wrong, they're there," she adds. "And they know what can go wrong."