It All Started with Bill and the Hot Florida Sun
It was another blistering, steamy day in Tampa, Florida, and Bill Morris, age 15, wanted to get out of the heat. He popped into the local bowling center, Regal Lanes (now Pin Chasers), for air-conditioned relief.
He was pretty poor, like everybody else he knew, but bowling in the A/C was worth every penny he earned mowing lawns.
He got so good at rolling those hard rubber balls down the slick lanes and solidly knocking down the pins that he started earning free games. For every strike when a red pin was in the head position, he bowled again for free, so he aimed to do that every time. Those free games enabled this young man to spend hours there and stay cool!
One day, Bill arrived as the owners, the Palazzolos – Frank, Mike and “the old man,” Mr. Palazzolo Sr. – were overseeing a contractor’s final touches of sanding the bowling lanes. The resulting sawdust had to be swept up so the lanes could be lacquered and oiled before the bowling center re-opened.
Cleaning up was a major job, and they asked if Bill wanted to help. He worked with them for the next five hours. After seeing the time and effort Bill put in, they figured they owed him something. They asked if he preferred being paid with money or free games. “Money, please,” he said. They gave him some cash.
The next Saturday, Bill was back, bowling at the center. The Palazzolos were shorthanded and asked if he would like to bus tables. He did, and that started his lifelong career there.
“From Day 1, I treated it like it was my bowling center,” Bill Morris said. “And whenever the old man Palazzolo was there, out at the counter, I listened to everything he said and watched this old Sicilian-Italian man do business. That’s how I learned the business.”
Bill worked his way up the ranks until 1976, when the Palazzolos passed the business, which was beginning to decline, to him.
Bill wanted the center to thrive, so he partnered with other people in the bowling industry, consulted with them, courageously tried new things and re-invested profits in the bowling center. He felt the key was to focus on the customer as family and to make the place as nice and welcoming as possible.
“I say Bill [Morris] and Maryland Fried Chicken started the turnaround at the center,” said Greg Pietz, Pin Chasers-Veterans general manager from 1974 to 2017.
“At the end of each season of league bowling, Bill would provide Maryland Fried Chicken for the leagues, and there would be a big banquet at the bowling center,” said Greg. “No one ever did things like that for these folks.”
“There was a big goal to be the country club for everyone,” said Anthony Perrone, Bill’s stepson and now CEO of Pin Chasers.
Everyone could have a good time at Bill Morris’s place, and the staff made sure they did. In style. The Regal Lanes staff wore coats and ties every day.
Not only that, said Bill, but “We’ve always been colorblind and politically neutral, choosing always to see everyone as a person created in the image of God and deserving to always be treated with love and respect.”
“We’ve had weddings and funerals here,” he said. “Some people are totally committed to bowling. We’ve always been family-focused. Even though how ‘family’ is defined has changed, our focus has stayed the same.”
“This is a neutral place,” said Greg. “Unlike a church, you don’t have to believe a certain way; unlike a club, you don’t have to pay to belong; unlike a bar, you don’t have to drink.”
“You can come any time, not like when you go to a movie,” said Barbara Phillips, Pin Chasers former general manager and marketing director (1974 to 2011).
“Where else can people go that’s like that?” asked Greg. “That’s why this has become a hub of so many people’s lives. That’s why Pin Chasers is one of a handful of businesses, especially entertainment businesses, that’s still here.”
Reserve your lane today at one of Pin Chasers’ three locations! Each center features free shoe rentals (and free socks), our Ten Pin Grill with freshly made food all day, a full-service bar, GameZone arcades, tournaments, cyber and late-night bowling, leagues for children and adults and free Learn-to-Bowl classes.
“One of the things Pin Chasers’ culture stands for is we have always been colorblind and politically neutral, choosing always to see everyone as a person created in the image of God and deserving to always be treated with love and respect.” –Bill Morris