Westside Lanes & Fun Center takes us back to the 80s

“As far as I can remember, I dressed the same way back in the 80s.” 

That was Norm Carey’s humble humor coming out from under his cotton polo and relaxed khakis. Norm has sported his unofficial bowler uniform since Westside Lanes and Fun Center opened its doors in 1983. 

Thirty-five years ago, Norm and his partner, Gordon Jensen, broke ground on the corner of Wyoming and Catlin streets. 

“We owned the lot, and we knew that we would do something with it someday,” Norm explained. “He didn’t bowl but I did. The UC Center had just closed their bowling alley so Gordon had the idea to build one. He was a smart, smart man. I was game for whatever Gordon wanted.”

Westside Lanes went up faster than a strong hip drive and slicker than a polished lane. From the plow of the first shovel to opening day, the process took only three months to complete.

“You couldn’t do that in Missoula now,” Norm pointed out with a wry chuckle.

From day one the alley was named Westside Lanes & Fun Center. The original building included 14 lanes, a lounge, and a snack bar. Over the years, they expanded into 36 lanes, a new lounge, and a casino on the east end. Then, there was the notorious Round Table, where Gordon and Norm would meet with local businessmen to discuss projects and opportunities. 

“The napkins would fly,” Norm quipped. “A lot of building decisions for Missoula happened at that table.”

“You could tell when it was fun and when it was business,” added Robyn Barker, the alley’s general manager. Robyn started out at Westside as a cocktail waitress and bartender. 

“She’s a great lady,” Norm liked to point out. “The support that I was to Gordon, she’s that for me. That’s why we did well back then, and that’s why we do well now.”

These days, Robyn stays busy with day-to-day management, plus planning parties. 

“The alley started in 1983, so we thought, ‘Let’s have an 80’s-themed anniversary party!'” 

On Saturday, September 29 Westside will welcome the public to an all-day celebration. Robyn has the event sketched out with 83-cent bowling, 83-cent shoe rental, and 83-cent burgers and dogs. Karaoke in the lounge will go retro with 80’s tunes. Costumes are encouraged, so bring on the big hair, shoulder pads, and skinny neck ties.

Will Norm divert from his everyday polo and slacks? Chances are good, according to Robyn. 

“I’ll never forget, one Halloween, Norm wore a different outfit with different shoes. He ordered a different drink than usual. And everyone asked, ‘Who’s this guy? And where’s Norm? He’s supposed to bowl.'”

And he has been bowling, for 35 years. When asked how the alley has endured over those decades, Norm speaks matter-of-factly. 

“We kept the building up to the best standards that we could. We tried to always make it the best for the customers to come and enjoy themselves. It’s their money that’s created what we’ve done.”