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Secoma Lanes rolls into Federal Way history book
After nearly 50 years in business, entrepreneur Elroy "Rocky" Rockwell has made a name for himself with his family-owned bowling alley, Secoma Lanes — and a gung-ho attitude.
The 85-year-old businessman is active in the everyday operations of the alley and has no plans to hand it over anytime soon.
"I'll be here until I go," Rockwell said.
His business success earned him a spot in the city's recently released history book — created by the Historical Society of Federal Way.
Rockwell began his business adventures in Federal Way after serving three years in the United States Coast Guard. At age 25, Rockwell and his dad started a drive-in restaurant in Federal Way. The year was 1948. Rockwell dreamed of opening a bowling alley, but could not afford the endeavor at the time, he said. Approaching 12 years later, in 1959, he opened Secoma Lanes.
"I was one of the first business people in Federal Way," he said. "We've done quite well here."
The secret to his success: a love for the industry and people, Rockwell said. He has no schooling or prior background knowledge in running a business. What Rockwell does have is a steadfast work ethic and a familiar establishment.
"I guess we just like the business," Rockwell said. "It's a people business."
Many of the 30-plus employees that work at the lanes, lounge or bar are either family or have been with the company for several years, Rockwell said. Two of his daughters and a son-in-law help keep the place going strong. Until his wife died a few years back, she also assisted.
"I'm here every day. Since the wife died, I have nothing to do at home," Rockwell said. "You have to keep busy. If you just sat around in a chair, I think you'd curl up and die."
His dedication has paid off. Rockwell knows many of his customers. They, too, recognize his face. The lanes are like a second home to a few bowlers, such as Dale Emory, 96. He has bowled there since the lanes opened and now engages in senior league bowling. Emory visited Secoma Lanes four times a week in his younger days, but now comes twice a week, he said.
"When you get to be 96, you don't have that zip anymore," Emory said.
He has enough left to show his bowling partners what he's made of, though. Emory bowled a 143 on Feb. 20. He has learned not to depend on great eyesight, as he is not able to see more than a few feet in front of himself. Fellow bowlers help him along by shouting out the position of the pins he needs to knock down. Emory knows which direction to shuffle depending on the formation of the remaining pins.
Keeping the atmosphere fresh and the service friendly keeps customers like Emory returning. Secoma tries to remain modern, Rockwell said. The large-screen televisions make score-reading easier for senior citizens. Natural light and a classy lounge add appeal. Multiple bowling leagues, open lanes, birthday party opportunities and a Professional Bowlers Association tournament this coming July are what Rockwell and family hope will keep business plugging along.
"We're right here," Rockwell said. "Come on down here and bowl."
Meanwhile, Rockwell is trying to live a modest life. Secoma Lanes' anniversary is in December. There will be some form of celebration, but Rockwell sees no reason to parade around now, despite the pressure he is feeling from the outside business world to celebrate a successful 50 years in business for the duration of 2009.
34500 Pacific Hwy S
Federal Way, WA 98003