Bowling Alley or Barbershop?
V&S Lanes, currently owned by Vanessa and Steve Fred (where V&S comes from), is more than just a typical bowling alley. Located in the depths of Southwest Philadelphia at 7235 Elmwood Avenue, the culture and atmosphere there is one of a kind and something that couldn’t be duplicated — even if Mr. Fred, current co-owner, wanted to.
Back in February, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Fred Sr. and learned a great deal about him as well as the business. During our interview, there were league games being played, and even though Fred was busy running a one man show, at the same time he was able to engage with me for our interview.
Fred is a native to North Philadelphia and stayed in the city until he was about 18. Afterwards, he spent 13 years in the air force. He would later get into Information Technology (IT) and work for Dow Jones as a Global Networks Operations Manager. What made an IT manager decide to run a bowling alley? “That’s a good question,” Fred said while laughing. Not even he was sure. During a night of league bowling, he discovered that the bowling alley was closing. He talked to his wife of 35 years about buying the bowling alley, which he referred to as an “idiotic idea,” and the rest is history.
Fred believes that his current ownership of the bowling alley is his calling. “We have a lot of seniors that bowl here,” he said. A lot of them have been bowling there for generations and have also known Mr. Fred since he was in his early 20s, since he’s been bowling at V&S Lanes for about 30 years!
“With us, you’re family” is more than just the slogan for V&S Lanes. “I call it the barbershop,” Fred said, “When I said we’re all family here, I meant that, literally. Maybe not by blood, but everybody knows everybody.” I watched as seniors would enter and exit the bowling alley and Fred would address each of them by their names (or nicknames), which showed me that Fred had a deeper relationship with those that came there, other than them being customers.
This makes V&S Lanes a cool place to hangout for people of all ages. Not only does Mr. Fred have a great relationship with those around his age and older, he also has a great relationship with the younger generations. He coaches and does mentoring for youth bowlers through their youth league as well as offering mentoring and guidance to those that aren’t involved with bowling. When Fred recognizes kids from the neighborhood getting into situations that could be deemed a “bad look,” he takes time out to talk to them. He intentionally goes out of his way to make a connection. Having grown up in Philly, he knows how it is to live in certain neighborhoods. “When I talk to kids, I tell them ‘I am you.’”
Since taking over V&S Lanes, the bowling alley has undergone some changes. Based on Mr. Fred’s personal observations, the alley is very different than it was back in the day. It’s new additions include: a new scoring system they upgraded about three years ago, synthetic lanes recently installed, new bumpers and gutters, games for the arcade, vending machines and even a legit snack shop that gets inspected by the city once a year.
Fred is incredibly humble and recognizes the value in helping others. “No one succeeds by themselves. It just doesn’t work that way,” he told me as he recalled the various people in his life who have and continue to help him run a steady business. From the vendors to his family, as well as the support from local residents.
At one point in time, Mr. Fred said he’d thought about owning every bowling alley in the city. However, after taking over V&S Lanes and learning the ins and outs of owning a bowling center, he’s changed his perspective. Fred notes that the vibe at V&S Lanes is one of a kind. Because he’s been around for a good amount of time, he’s aware that he also affects the vibe within V&S Lanes because he spends a good amount of time there. “I know it matters when I’m here and not here,” he said. When asked if he could give any examples of how V&S Lanes was different, he motioned towards a group of older bowlers who had finished their bowling and found a table to play Pinochle, noting that they’d stay there and play cards until he closed later that night.
Mr. and Mrs. Fred have only owned the alley for about 10 years, but it has been a staple in the Southwest community for more than half a century! If you’ve been bowling in the Southwest community for a long time, then you may know V&S Lanes by one of its former names — first known by Fleetwood Lanes and later 73rd Street Lanes. With it’s 26 lanes, arcade, pro-shop and snack shop, V&S Lanes is well equipped for any age group of visitors.
V&S Lanes is also home to two of the city’s fantastic leagues. The “Model Bowling League” which was established in 1956, is the oldest African American Bowling League in the city of Philadelphia and the fourth oldest active league still intact in the country. The other league is the “Jimmy Juniors.” This league was originally founded in 1972 and is used to teach youth from 6-18 the sport of bowling, friendship, and sportsmanship.
The Freds play different roles when it comes to the operation of V&S Lanes. Mrs. Fred is a tax accountant, who handles the finances of the business, whereas, Mr. Fred is more hands-on. Nine times out of 10, you can find him working at the alley. He has around 10 employees to help him keep the alley running smoothly.
V&S Lanes operates during a large range of times throughout the week, which means you can always find a time to bowl for a great price. Monday’s from 3:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, the alley is open from 9:00 am – 10:00 pm. Friday’s and Saturday’s from 9:00 am – 12:30 a.m. (at night). And Sunday’s from 9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Unfortunately, V&S Lanes is currently closed due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. However, in about a month, sometime mid to late October, V&S Lanes will be opening back to the public. If you need to speak with Mr. Fred, you can call V&S Lanes at 215-365-1626 or info@VnSlanes.com. Their website is VnSlanes.com.
The Paschalville Partnership is a collaboration of organizations spearheaded by the Free Library of Philadelphia working to transform services for the community served by Paschalville Library, located in Southwest Philadelphia. Over the next year, the partnership is working with community members to make visible the primary building blocks for sustainable community development. The partnership’s work is grounded in the principles of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), which intentionally builds on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions.