Inside Clifton’s Styertowne Shopping Center you’ll come across Michaels arts-and-crafts store where you’ll see a shadowbox with a T-shirt, some score cards from Bowl O Rama and a pen. When you take a closer look you’ll see that the shirt reads: “BOWL in air-conditioned comfort” and the words: “BERRA and RIZZUTO.”
You probably recognize those names. Just seeing them would conjure up images of pinstripes. But what exactly did Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto have to do with a mall in New Jersey?
Well, let me tell you the story behind this. During the 1950s, the Michaels store, along with Sherwin-Williams Paint Store and Lucille Roberts gym were once the area occupied by the Rizzuto-Berra Bowling Lanes. The 45,000 square feet bowling center opened in April 1958, and it was 40-lane establishment equipped with automatic pin setters, a cocktail lounge, restaurant, a playroom and snack bar. It was a joint business venture between the two Yankee legends.
Larry Berra, Yogi’s oldest son with Carmen Berra recalled, “We were there all the time.” He remarked that being at the bowling center turned into a family hangout between the Rizzutos and Berras.
Rizzuto’s brother, Fred, was the person in charge of day-to-day operations, while Patti his daughter took care of administrative work. Yogi’s brother John runs the bar.
At the time Yogi, was still very much an active player with four more World Series wins ahead of him. Phil, on the other hand, was gearing up to play his final season. Both dug shovels into the dirt at the groundbreaking which was held May 1956. The bowling alley was successful from the get go.
The grand opening drew a crowd of 5,000 and papers as far away as Texas and Wisconsin reported the event. Majority of the 1958 Yankees were in attendance including Mickey Mantle, Moose Skowron, Don Larsen, Gil McDougald, Hank Bauer, Elston Howard as well as Casey Stengel, the team’s manager.
Berra and Rizzuto reportedly invested $50,000 each just to begin the venture and it cost $1.2 million to open (estimated to be approximately $11.9 million today).
The bowling center’s bar had the shape of the Yankee Stadium, so it was dubbed The Stadium Lounge. There’s a trophy case showcasing 4 AL MVP plaques (three from Berra’s and one other Rizzuto’s), plus a pair of Rizzuto’s gloves and a catcher’s mitt which Yogi wore in 1951 when he caught Allie Reynolds’ two no-hitters. The Dug Out restaurant became a home away from home for Larry Berra and his brothers. It may not be as modern as what we’d see in Stars and Strikes today, but it looked pretty advanced for its time.
The bowling alley’s parking area also functioned as a commuter lot for Berra and his teammates. They would meet there before the games and go in a single car to the stadium.
The names Berra and Rizzuto buzzing in bright neon was a beacon to kids in neighboring areas. Both Yankees stars had the foresight to open an alley close to the start of the bowling boom in the US and they also chose the right location.
During the time, there were two options for bowling alleys in the city – Rizzuto Berra and Wallington Lanes. But many preferred the former because it was located in a shopping center.
The first baseball offseason after the alley opened, Berra and Rizzuto formed a team to play in the Monday night bowling league and their members included Howard, McDougald, Skowron, Ralph Houk and Johnny Kucks. The Yankees “keglers” lost their first 6 games.
Yogi Berra was very hands-on in the business. He moved to the area and became an asset to the community. In the mid-60s both Berra and Rizzuto got out of the bowling business and sold their alley to their brothers.