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    Bowling alley closes

    Financial difficulties appear to be responsible for Largo Lanes' abrupt closing last week after 43 years.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


    LARGO -- Largo Lanes, the prominent home of many area bowlers and countless tournaments over its 43-year history, has been closed and probably will be demolished.

    Its owner, Cotton W. Smith, closed the business last week amid major financial difficulties, said John Skicewicz, a real estate agent who had been working on a deal to sell the property.

    Smith has hired a bankruptcy lawyer and so has the mortgage holder, said Skicewicz, regional commercial director for Arvida Realty Services.

    "It may end up in bankruptcy or foreclosure or both," he said.

    A potential buyer wanted to refurbish Largo Lanes, at 1015 West Bay Drive, but Smith's asking price was too high, said Daniel Herman, Smith's bankruptcy attorney.

    "They have struggled mightily against bankruptcy, but ultimately, they could not get out of the financial situation they were involved in," said Herman.

    Smith could not be reached for comment.

    Republic Bank filed a notice in Pinellas Circuit Court last month seeking to foreclose on a mortgage of another property on the grounds of the 40-lane bowling alley.

    Although a sign on the grounds proclaims, "Bowling Specials. All You Can Bowl Fri. and Sat," the boxy, light yellow building with green and red trim has been closed since April 25.

    Employees were called for a special meeting that day when Smith told them the business was being closed. Cheryl DiMarino, a waitress at Largo Lanes, said Smith referred to problems with asbestos. She said the workers were given their paychecks and the place was closed.

    "We were just so flabbergasted that we just looked at each other and started laughing," said DiMarino, who had worked there for three years.

    Worried that she could have been harmed by asbestos, DiMarino contacted county environmental officials. County workers inspected the site and did not observe anything alarming, said Peter Hessling, the county's Air Quality Division administrator.

    Hessling said county environmental workers will continue to visit the site.

    Smith has owned Largo Lanes since 1978. He was struck by a car in 1994 and spent two months in a hospital and another two months bedridden at home.

    The building was once considered as a potential location for the Mary Grizzle State Office Building. City officials, instead, constructed the building at Ridge and Ulmerton roads.

    - Times correspondent Phil Gulick and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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