Pick’s Bowling Center in Bigfork centers on family, community, and a love of bowling.

By Allison Batch. Photograph by Mandy Mohler of Field Guide Designs.

Lou Pickavance is a bowler. “I am absolutely a bowling addict. I love it! It’s been a great way to meet new people, everywhere I’ve lived.”

Lou first encountered her love of bowling when her youngest son David started kindergarten. They were living in Boise, Idaho and she joined a church league. “That’s where I got hooked on it. And I’ve been with bowling ever since.”

As the owner of Pick’s Bowling Center in Bigfork, bowling has become both her business and her beloved pastime. But it was a journey to get here. Lou and her husband Dennis first moved out west to escape the heat and bugs of South Florida, where they had run a successful business building homes for many years. They eventually made their way to Montana, first landing in the Gallatin Valley. The rustic nature of the state both shocked and enchanted them. “We were not from this part of the country where you’ve got wild animals close by, your driveway isn’t paved, people have got horses in their front yards!” Lou laughed. “But that’s the beauty of it. We fell in love with it.”

In 1989, they moved north to the Flathead Valley, drawn by Dennis’ love of water to be close to Flathead Lake. They loved the community of Bigfork but did not love retirement, so they decided to take on a new venture. In 2000, the Pickavances purchased North Shore Lanes, a bowling alley that was built in 1980 on Flathead Lake.

The new business undertaking also gave their son Dave and daughter Diane a reason to return to Montana. Both were living in Las Vegas, and Diane was raising five children. While Lou and Dennis went to visit them frequently, “We wanted to bring them home.”

The Pickavances ran North Shore Lanes for eight years, until it became obvious that they needed to give up the location. “The old building was starting to groan, and was costing us a lot of money.”

But Dennis was entirely committed to the business, Lou explained. “He was the driving force. He wanted this place so bad.” Although, ironically, he was not a bowler himself. The community aspect of the business was the real motivator for Dennis. “He did not want to leave Bigfork without a bowling center.”

The Pickavances began their search for a new location to build their own bowling center. They needed a piece of land large enough for the expanded building to sit on, but still connected to City services. They found the perfect fit on Montana 82, just before you turn right onto Montana 35 to drive into Bigfork from Kalispell.

Construction broke ground in February 2008. But tragedy struck the family soon after. In July, as the bowling lanes were beginning to be installed in the new building, Dennis passed away. Lou knew she had to finish what they had started together, to see his vision realized. She had to quickly become an expert on construction of a bowling center as she was coping with the loss of her husband of 48 years.

“He loved this place more than anything, so I had to finish the construction for it. And I’m not good at that, but I started relying on the advice of other people,” Lou explained. “I started taking trips over to Portland and Seattle to see what the latest and greatest was in bowling centers. That’s how we came up with this design. This is it.”

Pick’s Bowling Center was built with state-of-the-art technology found in bowling centers in much larger cities. The scoring is digitalized (so no cheating!) and displayed on 42-inch monitors above the lanes. Bumpers can be set up for individual bowlers so they rise and drop depending on whose turn it is, allowing all ages to bowl together.

Along with 20 bowling lanes, Pick’s houses an arcade area, a separate bar and casino, and a snack bar where they serve “the best pizza in Bigfork” along with other grill items and salads. There are “boutique” lanes that include couches and ottomans.

Lou’s favorite addition? Cosmic bowling. “It’s like a nightclub atmosphere. It’s just amazing.” The main lights are turned off and the flashing dance lights come on. The lanes are illuminated with black lights that bring out special designs on the tables and chairs. They turn the jukebox way up. “Let me tell you, it’s rocking.”

But at the heart of Pick’s Bowling Center remains family. “People love knowing the family who runs a bowling center. It’s just natural. Bowling is a family-oriented business.” And Pick’s is certainly carrying on that tradition, with four generations now taking part.

Lou is the self-declared “Chief Troublemaker,” and handles the bookkeeping. Her daughter Diane runs most of the day-to-day operations. Two of her granddaughters share the bar and casino operations. Her grandson Kyle is learning the behind-the-scenes mechanics from their head mechanic Gus. Her son David had been an integral part of the operations until about a year ago, when he decided to step back. He still comes in to help when needed, especially in the Pro Shop that Pick’s houses on site. And she has multiple great-grandchildren now learning to bowl on the lanes she built.

When asked who’s the best bowler in the family, Lou immediately says, “My son.” She recounts a night when David bowled two perfect 300 games back-to-back in one night. Lou’s personal best is 268, which she bowled in Wichita, Kansas during the National Competitions.

But the most important part of the sport to Lou is what drew her to it originally – the community people find here. People who are new to town often tell her, “I am so glad I came in here, because I have met so many people.” Multiple leagues are active at Pick’s, and they host fundraisers and parties for many local businesses and organizations. She’s working on getting their youth program restarted to bring kids and teenagers to the sport.

This spring, Pick’s has the honor of co-hosting the Women’s State Tournament with Pin & Cue in Whitefish. From April to May, they’ll house the best bowlers from all over Montana – the first time for the Flathead since 1998. Lou has been working hard to get the tournament here because she knows it’s good for the whole valley – local hotels, restaurants, and shops will all benefit from visitors, especially during the slow shoulder season.

The local community relationship keeps Dennis’ memory alive for the family. “He was a special guy. We miss him so much. He just loved people. It would have been so fun to see him mixing with people in here, making fun of them,” Lou laughed. “And he had an infectious laugh. He had this great big belly laugh that just made everyone around him laugh. And you know laughter is a great thing.”

And his nickname, Pick, lives on as the name of the bowling center that he was dedicated to bringing to the people of Bigfork.

Pick’s Bowling Center is located at 2849 MT-82 in Bigfork and is open seven days a week starting at 11:00 AM. Learn more at www.picksbowl.com or by calling (406) 837-2233.

About the Author: Allison Batch is the Sustainability Programs Coordinator for Citizens for a Better Flathead. She lives in Kalispell.

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