When was the last time you heard a sports or entertainment facility in Dallas – shucks, in the whole state – brag about being the biggest, the newest or the most outrageous in some category?

Recently, most likely. We have the biggest movie complexes, the biggest country nightclubs, the newest major auto racetrack, the tallest of this, the longest of that – you get the picture.

But all these big, new, modern entertainment mega-complexes can’t put one small, old-fashioned neighborhood bowling alley out of business.

On a Saturday, the 39-year-old Jupiter Lanes, tucked away just off the intersection of Jupiter and Garland roads, is a bopping place.

But while the 1950s might have found its 24 lanes filled with swaggering, cigarette-smoking teenagers and Laverne and Shirley look-alikes, the 1990s finds it popular with a family crowd.

In mid-afternoon, there must be at least five birthday parties occurring simultaneously at tables behind the lanes.

Colorful balloons are tethered to one table, where a dozen kids wearing cardboard party hats are blowing noisemakers.

In the first couple of lanes, a small group of well-behaved teenagers are dancing to a rock-n-roll song between turns at bowling. Nearby, a 5-year-old raises his arms in victory after his ball knocks over most of the pins. Other youngsters give each other high fives after one of them makes a strike.

Owner Phil Kinzer, a former pro bowler, knew he was facing a challenge when he took over Jupiter Lanes in 1978. Hard work and creativity – including his invention of the Bumper Bowling concept to eliminate gutter-ball frustration for little kids – not only returned the center to profitability but earned it a “No. 1 Bowling Center in America” rating by a major bowling industry consultant in 1986.

“One of our mottoes is ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,’” Kinzer says.

Kinzer seems just as determined to prove that a bowling center can be a neighborhood town square as he is to spread the gospel of bowling as a lifelong sport. Case in point: Jupiter Lanes hosted the inauguration celebration for John Carona when he was elected to the state legislature several years ago.

Kinzer’s staff has helped folks set up leagues with names like Beginner (self-explanatory), Vacation (the group takes a trip at the end of the season) and Cowboys (the gang that bowls together and also attends football games together). There are also leagues for senior citizens and parents and their children.

“Contrary to what you might think, there’s actually more places in Dallas to bowl now than there were 20 years ago,” Kinzer says.

“And we have more customers these days, but they’re just not as avid or as frequent a bowler as they used to be.”