By John Burbridge, firstname.lastname@example.org
Some time in the near or distant future, Peggy Sweet plans to retire … so she can work only 40 hours a week.
As of now, she puts in about 60 as co-owner of Comet Bowl, the 18-lane house located at 1100 S. Grand Ave.
“Some days I’m here for 15 hours. Some other days I may be here for only six,” Sweet said. “It’s not like I’m on a time clock or anything, but things need to be done when you’re running a business. And that can take up a lot of your time.”
Sweet owns Comet Bowl with her brother, Mark Barry. The bowling alley has been around since 1960.
Sweet and Barry’s father, Loyd Barry, and business partner Bob Crawford purchased the “house” in 1972. In addition to getting the bowling alley at a good price, the business partners also benefited from cheap and reliable labor when they hired Peggy and Mark to do the menial tasks to keep the place clean and presentable.
“Even when we were young, we’ve been involved in the business,” said Sweet, who took on Comet Bowl managerial duties in 1987.
Peggy and Mark took over ownership in 2008, and Loyd Barry died on March 21, 2009.
Comet Bowl has remained a Charles City landmark as well as one of the bigger and more popular bowling establishments in the region despite the decline of the local population.
Advisors within the bowling industry suggest to those planning to build a new bowling facility that size should be determined by a formula of one lane per 2,000 residents within a five-mile radius.
Even without checking the census figures, there are far fewer than 36,000 residents within the five-mile radius of the 18-lane Comet Bowl.
So what keeps Comet Bowl rolling?
“We really built up on the food side,” said Sweet, who handles much of the restaurant side of the building. “Mark bartends and we both work the counter and share the bowling-side duties. But I do most of the cooking. … I update the menus and post them online.”
Comet Bowl’s former daily schedule catered to the lunch crowd before closing down in the middle of the day and then reopening for the bowlers in the evening.
“But now we cook all day and we get a good traffic of people throughout the day,” Sweet said. “When you hear people say, ‘Let’s go to Comet Bowl,’ it could be that they want to go bowling, but a lot of times they’re coming here to eat.”
Sweet said some of Comet Bowl’s more popular entrees include the hand-breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, the hand-battered cod fillets and — Sweet’s signature — reuben soup.
“It’s an old Irish recipe,” Sweet said of the corned beef and sauerkraut-laden mixture.
In the spirit of their late father, Sweet and her brother have utilized Comet Bowl to give back to the community. Sweet helped petition the Charles City school board to start a high school bowling program. After approval, Sweet and Barry allowed the fledgling program to practice for free at Comet Bowl through the weeks of their season.
Since then, the high school program has continued to grow and succeed. Last bowling season, the Comet boys and girls teams both finished runner-up at the Class 1A State Bowling Championship and were each about a mark or two away from winning a state title.
This past spring, Sweet and Barry announced they were putting Comet Bowl up for sale.
“It’s not like we’re chomping at the bit to find a buyer,” Sweet said. “We could still be here this time next year.
“We just want to make sure to sell it to the right person … someone who this would be the right fit for them and their family.”
According to both Sweet and Barry, all of their kids have worked at Comet Bowl at one time or another, but none of them have an interest in running the day-to-day operations.
“We knew we weren’t going to run this place forever,” Sweet said, “After we do sell it, I’ll likely still have to work. It will be more like a semi-retirement for me.”
But even after she and her brother hand over the keys, it’s going to be hard keeping Sweet out of Comet Bowl.
“I’ll still have my gals,” Sweet said of the Monday Night Women’s League in which she is a member. “And I’ll be here for my grandkids when they bowl in our youth league. This place will always be a part of my life.”