As Bozeman changes, there’s one downtown mainstay that’s stayed the same — for seven decades, to be exact.

“It has stood the test of time,” said Mark Kottwitz, who co-owns the Bozeman Bowl with his wife, Lori Kottwitz.

Bozeman Bowl is celebrating its 70th birthday next week. For the past 13 years, it has been the sole bowling alley in Bozeman, aside from the one in Montana State University’s Strand Union Building, and the Kottwitzes said they intend to keep it a bowling alley for years to come.

It originally opened on Sept. 10, 1949, the first bowling alley in Montana with automated pin setters. At the time, Ray Stewart and Lori’s father, Herb Hruska, were the original owners.

The two were avid bowlers, but that was common back then, Lori said.

“Back in the day, bowling was the big thing,” she said. “Everyone did it — there were limited things for people to do back then.”

The industry has seen ups and downs over the years, taking a dip around when the Kottwitzes bought Bozeman Bowl in 2008. Though people still don’t bowl as much as they did in the past, things have improved since then. They’re at their league capacity, at just under 700 members.

The bowling alley’s success has to do with Bozeman’s support and also the nature of the sport. It can be played in all four seasons, and Lori said she’s seen people as young as 2 and as old as 94 play at Bozeman Bowl.

“It’s a lifetime sport,” she said.

She and Mark have also had people who are blind, people in wheelchairs and special Olympians come bowl. It’s something that’s accessible to many people, she said.

“Everybody has a good time,” she said.

To keep the space running, either Mark or Lori get to the bowling alley every day at 7 a.m., performing routine maintenance on the space and cleaning and oiling down the lanes with a Zamboni-like machine.

With so many people handling heavy bowling balls, there’s a lot that can go wrong — one person got a ball stuck in their hand and ended up throwing it into the ceiling. Another time, someone accidentally drove right into the building and then came in expecting to bowl their three games.

Keeping everything maintained is hard work, and the owners are usually at the alley seven days a week. To the Kottwitzes, it’s worth it, though. They love Bozeman, and they consider all their league members and other regulars family.

That’s a big part of the reason it’s been important for the alley owners to hold on to the space. With a prime location on the corner of Babcock Street and Church Avenue, they said they hear from people interested in buying it every day.

If they did sell, it wouldn’t be a bowling alley anymore, Mark said, and the community wouldn’t have a bowling alley outside of MSU. The couple wants to keep it there and sees it as an asset for the community.

“Everyone has a good time, whether they bowl great or not great,” he said. “People have fun here.”

Bozeman Bowl will celebrate its birthday from Sept. 8 to Sept. 14 with $2 games, free rentals and league specials.

Abby Lynes can be reached at alynes@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

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