BUSINESS Look who's talking Look Who’s Talking ~ Darcy Nawrocki


Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in East Grand Rapids, the middle of three kids. My father was President of the EGR school board, a life -long contributor on their team boosters and served on the board of the John Ball Zoo so I definitely get my desire to “give back” from him.

I went on to graduate from CMU in 1991 with a teaching degree and held some different teaching positions in Kalamazoo. While at CMU, I served on their student congress and played club soccer as I have always been one to be on the go, doing things and meeting new challenges.

After I moved back to the Grand Rapids area from Kalamazoo, I went to work with my dad selling beer and wine and met my husband Mike, who was then in the process of buying the bowling center, The Fanatorium, which closed when our youngest was born.

So for the past 16 years I have been a stay at home mom to our two sons, Nick and Max, ages 16 and 14, who both play hockey and attend Mona Shores schools. I stayed home while Mike worked his regular seven days a week, 14 hour days to make his next bowling center, Clique Lanes, a success with his partner Dennis Johnson. Dennis’s wife Lisa also put in many hours working at the Clique. And it should be noted that the Johnsons’ daughter Samantha, now in college, is one of the top eight bowlers in the U.S. of women her age. As for me, I made the very personal decision to give up owning a car for over two years so I could stay home with the boys. It has only been this past year out here in Muskegon that I have become involved at our bowling center, Sherman Lanes as marketing director. And I love it!

You are a fairly recent resident of Muskegon. What made you move from Grand Rapids to the lakeshore?

My husband and his partner, Dennis Johnson, were asked by the owner of Sherman Lanes to “help” him run it with the idea of eventually purchasing it, since he also owned another bowling center in GR, Northfield Lanes, but had recently lost his business partner– his father. Since the bowling world is a close knit community of small business owners eager to see bowling succeed for generations to come, Dennis and Mike were willing to help out their friend so Mike started commuting to Muskegon from Jenison to help manage Sherman Lanes while Dennis stayed back at our other bowling center, Clique Lanes, to keep the home fires burning (Dennis and Mike now own Sherman Bowling Center). I suggested to my husband that since our kids love hockey and this area is known for hockey, we should move to Muskegon and be closer to where my husband was working. So on a wing and a prayer, we sold our home in Jenison in ten days and spent the next few months looking for a home here near the lake. As luck would have it, through a hockey friend we found a house and moved in June of 2013. We love it here… we love the schools, the beach, the community and its sense of pride and volunteerism.

How did you and your husband Mike get involved with the bowling world?

Mike has literally been bowling since he was a young child. Every Saturday his dad bowled on a league as men did “back in the day” and he would take Mike and put his son on a lane where my husband basically taught himself to bowl very well. He doesn’t like to brag but he has quite a few “perfect” 300 games under his belt as well as a personal accomplishment he achieved at Sherman Lanes with an 806 series.

All his life, Mike aspired to be a great bowler, did Co-Op in high school at Hudsonville Lanes, bowled in junior tournaments all through his teenage years and had thought about going pro. But instead, he purchased his first bowling center in his early 20’s and then went on to try to purchase the bowling center in GR, The Fanatorium, in the late 1990’s with his two other partners, Terry Reilly and Dennis Johnson. Their land contract to buy the center fell apart when the owner unexpectedly passed away. But four months later, he got a call from the Orlikowski family to ask if he and Dennis wanted to take over Clique Lanes in GR which their parents had built in 1953. Well, we were back in the bowling world, the world Mike loves and the only thing I can ever see him doing with his life. And it was from there that Mike often mentioned that his dream would be to own multiple bowling centers which is now a dream come true.

So — are you a good bowler too?

I was never a good bowler but when our sons were little, we joined a couples bowling league through our church. With some tips from Mike, I went from bowling a 50 or 60 to now being able to consistently pick up spares and score over 110. But the short answer is –no, I was never really a bowler.

Sherman Bow ling Center is rapidly becoming an “event” destinat ion with its Back Door Alley room . How do you determine what type of event works well in Muskegon?

We have been very blessed to meet a lot of new and outgoing people out here in Muskegon and between being fortunate enough to win the bids for men’s state tournament in 2014, the youth state tournament in 2015 and the women’s state tournament in 2016, we have been hosting a ton of fundraisers. We have hosted a bowling event for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, comedy nights for Relay for Life for Allendale and Coopersville as well as the Relay for Life here in Muskegon. We had the Lakeshore Museum do a “pop up” event and feature the cool items Brunswick sold and sells in the area.

We very much appreciate the support of the local Muskegon bowling board and all of our loyal regulars as well as senior league bowlers. We also reach out to local schools and other groups to help them raise money at Sherman Lanes. There really are a ton of groups we work with … too many to mention. We just want our events to be very family and community friendly and appeal to people looking to have a good time.

How do you envision Sherman Bowling Center in five years? What do you hope to accomplish?

We hope to be a premier destination for bowling, group events, as well as weddings in our banquet room, The Platinum Room. We want to grow our business as a staple in this wonderful community where parents know they can drop their kids to bowl and have a great time. We are here for birthday parties as well as hosting these comedy nights and have two banquet rooms for rent. In five years, we hope more people realize that Sherman Bowling Center is here to stay as an entertainment center. We plan to continue to find new and exciting ways to be an asset to our community.

What has been your biggest surprise about living in Muskegon?

I think we have all been surprised that it is such a quiet and beautiful hub of serene beaches and a variety of things to see and do along with unique bars and restaurants. I personally love how it feels “calm” here.

What ’s the most difficult aspect of owning a bowling alley and event center? What is the most rewarding?

I would say the most difficult part of owning the bowling center is my husband’s long hours, late nights and devotion to the job when someone calls in sick or hurt. But as a “hands-on” owner I truly admire his drive to make sure the bowling center runs well and continues to succeed. I started cleaning there five days a week just this season and now understand a little better the need to never let your eye off the ball. Every single day, I will walk by something that needs extra attention, or I will have an idea for an event or I will think something could be done differently to make it easier. Honestly, I probably drive the employees crazy now that I am there more often but it truly becomes a part of you and a labor of love when you are growing a business that has meant so much to you and your family for 17 years. Bowling has been very good to us. I was one of the few moms I knew back in Jenison who could stay home with their kids. Sometimes it wasn’t easy but we made it work and I would not go back and change a thing. But I think what is the most rewarding aspect of owning a business is seeing it succeed, supporting the community and keeping other families employed.

Any advice for young women who want to own their own business someday?

Sharpen your communication skills. I have now worked in the beer and wine industry and the bowling business where I was related to the guy in charge in both places. And as a woman in the working world, you may not always be taken as seriously as you might feel you should. So think about how you are presenting yourself, always be professional and try not to take things personally. I recall being screamed at in a restaurant in GR (18 years ago mind you) and I just stood there and smiled. I knew the manager was upset at our order mishap and not me but it was still no fun to be screamed at for something I did not do wrong. As a woman today in the working world, take yourself seriously and those around you will also take you seriously.

What do you do to relax outside of work ?

I scrapbook and read mystery novels and love a good “series” so I don’t have to get to know all new characters when I start a new book. Otherwise I do not let myself relax. We stay at home moms still had the constant grind of laundry, doctor appointments, home maintenance and meal planning. I think I would tell my 30 year old, newly married self, to take more breaks and allow more free time in my schedule.

But next to being a hockey mom, I like to rummage around vintage stores and garage sales in search of old furniture to paint and bring back to life. I also love to take pictures but have fallen behind in scrapbooking the eight seasons our boys have spent playing hockey.

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