‘It breaks my heart’: Kellogg Bowl in Milwaukie closes for good

Owners say the bowling alley which opened in 1962 barely survived the state’s seven-month closure but could not withstand a second closure ordered last month.

MILWAUKIE, Ore. — For decades, the red neon sign glowing outside Kellogg Bowl in downtown Milwaukie prepared guests for what they were about to experience: something from a time gone by. 

Kellogg Bowl opened in 1962. Since then, it had welcomed countless families, bowling league members and even singers looking to shoot music videos

“They searched us out, it made us feel good,” said general manager, Roxanne Oetken. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Last month, the red neon sign flanked by mid-century cinderblock walls went dark for good. It signaled the closure of a 58-year-old business and the end of another era—life before COVID-19.

“It breaks my heart, it breaks all of our hearts,” said Oetken. “Unfortunately, this is probably going to be the demise of a lot of businesses just like ours.”

When Kellogg Bowl closed Nov. 17, it was in accordance with Governor Kate Brown’s executive order for a temporary, two-week freeze to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19. Oetken said she had expected they would reopen but on Tuesday, a message posted on the bowling alley’s Facebook page announced its permanent closure.

“It has been a very difficult decision. A business can not endure 10-12 months of closure and be expected to survive,” read part of the post, signed by Oetken and owners Champ Hustead and Bill Oetken, Roxanne’s father.

“Your support and friendship through the years has been the heart of Kellogg Bowl. We will shed tears and share lots of memories,” continued the post. “We appreciate each and every one of you and look forward to seeing you continue to enjoy this incredible sport and support the Centers that do survive this unprecedented Pandemic.”

By Wednesday night, nearly 600 people had commented on the post.

“Sending love to Kellogg. This is so sad and hard to hear,” wrote Corine Oingerang. “Thank you for all the great times and wonderful memories. I learned how to bowl here. Thank you for everything.”

Tom Parr wrote, “Very sad to see this announcement after you worked so hard to make Kellogg safe. Your friendliness always made everyone feel at home.”

Kellogg Bowl had only been open for three weeks when it closed again, last month. An executive order had allowed bowling alleys and skating rinks in counties still under Phase 1 regulations to reopen, Oct. 30. Most of those venues had been closed since March.

“During the three weeks we were open we were recognized as being more safe and sanitary than most other businesses that were open,” said Oetken. “Our customers could not understand why we were sitting there since April and we’ve been trying to understand, too.”

Oetken said they were able to rehire some of the 16 employees they had to lay off last spring, only to have to let them go again last month.

“It’s hard on them,” said Oetken. “Some quit old jobs so they could come back. We were open for three weeks and now they don’t have a job anymore. It’s been a roller coaster.”

Despite holding on by a thread, Oetken said the bowling alley would have probably survived had it not been forced to close a second time.

“Just because we own the land doesn’t mean the bills don’t stop,” said Oetken. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand.”

Through her sadness over Kellogg Bowl’s fate, Oetken said she hopes patrons will support other bowling alleys that are still holding on.

“I really hope the bowling industry survives,” said Oetken. “We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this… if we could find a miracle it wouldn’t just help Kellogg, it would help all bowling alleys.”