'It hurts': Longtime Oak Forest Bowl customers devastated after bowling alley destroyed by huge fire

'They hope that everybody can rally behind them': Owners' niece says they watched as beloved bowling alley was engulfed in flames

ByStephanie Wade WLS logo
Sunday, May 7, 2023
South suburban fire destroys bowling alley; customers share memories
Laura Canulli said her aunt and uncle watched as their beloved bowling alley was engulfed in flames early Saturday morning.

OAK FOREST, Ill. (WLS) -- A suburban bowling alley was destroyed in an early morning fire Saturday, Oak Forest officials said.

Oak Forest fire crews were on the scene about 2:30 a.m. at Oak Forest Bowl, located at 15240 S. Cicero Ave., city officials tweeted later Saturday morning.

Roughly 12 towns responded to the call, and the fire was mostly out as of about 7:30 a.m. The building is a total loss, Oak Forest Deputy Fire Chief Steve Griffin said.

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No one was inside when the fire broke out, and no injuries were reported. Firefighters returned Saturday evening to put out more hot spots.

The owner of Oak Forest Bowl said he is just devastated. His niece, Laura Canulli, said her aunt and uncle watched as their beloved bowling alley was engulfed in flames early Saturday morning.

"Every time I talk to my aunt, she is beside herself crying, and it makes you want to cry," Canulli said.

She said it is difficult to put into words the grief her family feels right now.

"They are obviously devastated," Canulli said. "They hope that everybody can rally behind them."

The south suburban bowling alley has been around for decades.

"I said 'no,' because I met my husband here like in 1982," Monica Stark said. "He lived across the street."

Longtime customers of the businesses expressed their sadness over the loss of a community staple.

"It hurts," customer Patricia Kleber said. "It hurts to see it like this, and I just want to cry again."

Larry Kincade was at the bowling alley one hour prior to when the building caught fire, and he watched with the owners as the building collapsed.

"It was hard," Kincade said. "I was up here last night with him, and just watching it together was unbelievable. The roof collapsed and knowing we were just here an hour and a half before earlier. My kids work here. It's not a bowling alley, it's a family."

Customer Ian Montgomery fondly remembered his daughter Eleanor's birthday celebration there.

"We had a lot of birthdays here," Montgomery said. "She had a birthday here, her second birthday party here. Just lots of memories gone."

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the owners recover from the loss.

"We've got the memories, and now that's all we have," Eric Harwell said. "We don't have another generation that's going to be able to be in this one. Hopefully, we can rebuild."

The fire's cause is still being investigated.