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Bowling alley's ex-owner has knowledge to spare

But the woman who built Mariner Lanes in 1989 and has operated it ever since has lots of knowledge to spare and will stay on to train the new proprietor.

Published September 14, 2005

SPRING HILL - Mariner Lanes is not your typical bowling alley. And that's the way it will remain, despite a change in ownership.

Rafael Hernandez recently purchased the business from Edie Jo Norman, who built the facility in 1989 and has been the hands-on operator ever since.

"Right now, I'm not going to make any changes," Hernandez said from New Jersey, where he's in the process of moving to Hernando County.

Hernandez's experience is in supermarket and liquor store management, and also real estate sales.

"I don't have any experience in bowling," he admitted, but added: "I like to deal with people; I like relationships with people."

Although Norman is retiring, she has agreed to stay on to train the new proprietor. And Norman has a wealth of experience to share.

"Bowling is all I've ever done," said the native of Miami, who didn't pick up a bowling ball until age 18 and immediately loved the sport.

She turned professional in 1965 and earned more than 50 state and national titles. She was inducted into the National Bowling Hall of Fame and retired from the pro tour in 1980.

When not gliding the ball down the icy-slick lanes , Norman managed bowling facilities and worked for sporting goods manufacturer Brunswick, traveling throughout the United States and Central and South America. Mariner Lanes is the second bowling attraction she has owned.

Travels that took her to facilities around the country played a part in Norman's design of Mariner Lanes. Behind and stepped above the 32 lanes is spacious table seating from which an audience can view all of the play.

Lighting there is subdued, while the lanes are brightly lit. The contrast creates the ambience of an auditorium and stage. Carpeting is plush with a jazzy, neon design.

But there's much more.

"The largest game room in Spring Hill," Norman said, gesturing to a sunken room with arcade and carnival-like games, many with sporting themes. Pool tables stand in ranks. An air hockey table is nearby.

Players slot tokens into the machines. Thus, parents, who may be bowling or dining, don't have to worry about youngsters inadvertently losing their pocket money. Game winners receive chits they turn in for merchandise prizes.

"The whole facility is family oriented," Norman said. "We want people to come and stay."

Many come for the food at the Spare Time Sports Bar & Eatery.

"We don't do hot dogs and hamburgers and greasy fries typical of a bowling alley," Norman said. "We don't have a cook. We have a chef."

Presiding over the kitchen is Bill Freel who makes "great pasta, a Caesar salad that's dynamite, low-carb wraps, outstanding fish" and more.

Freel says his favorite cooking pursuit is making sauces, which gives an idea of the level of the cuisine. A customer favorite is his sauced grilled tuna.

The restaurant offers casual fare as well, including Freel's homemade potato chips. Norman adds: "We like to say we have the hottest wings and coldest beer in town."

Diners choose from booths, tables surrounded by captain's chairs or stools at the bar. Spaced along the walls are 21 TVs.

The facility also features a full-service pro shop and a hallway photo gallery of bowling standouts.

Hernandez, 41, was visiting an uncle in Spring Hill when he heard the attraction might be for sale.

"I just thought the place looked interesting," he said, "so many businesses in one."

Freel and the other 25 employees, many part time, will remain.

"The employees have all met (Hernandez) and love him," Norman said. As for her continued presence, "I'm able to keep my hand in because I love it," she said.

The new owner said he hasn't yet had a chance to play in the game room. But the restaurant has successfully beckoned him.

"The first day I came, I ate," he said, "and it was delicious."

Hernandez, Norman and friends celebrated Norman's 64th birthday on Thursday. Where else? At the Spare Time Sports Bar & Eatery.

Beth Gray may be contacted at

[Last modified September 14, 2005, 02:15:34]

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