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Monday Q&A: Uptown guy

David Larter August 13, 2012 9













Mark it, dude: A $21 million bowling and entertainment complex is on track to open in November.

When Uptown Alley opens, the 60,000-sqaure-foot, 40-lane bowling alley/entertainment complex will be one of the biggest indoor entertainment facilities in Virginia.

The man behind the project, Steve Uphoff, is getting geared up for the grand opening. It will be Uphoff’s second Uptown Alley location, and he has been working on the project at Commonwealth Center Parkway and Brad McNeer Parkway off Hull Street Road since he bought the land in January 2008.

Uphoff, who founded the Uppy’s convenience store chain, caught up with BizSense last week to give us an update on Uptown Alley and to talk about what’s next for his Uphoff Ventures, including a massive apartment project he has planned near VCU.

Richmond BizSense: How’s Uptown Alley coming along?

Steven Uphoff: We’re finishing phase one of two phases, and that is the entertainment complex portion. The second phase is going to be a hotel and some complementary businesses. It’s going to be awesome.

RBS: So you’re on track?

SU: Oh, yes. We just installed our 29-foot [rooftop bowling] pin last Monday, and it’s four inches below our maximum limit. Our contractor, Taylor & Parrish, has done a phenomenal job getting us in on budget and on time. They are on track to deliver it to us on Oct. 23. We’ll come in, do our training and open on Nov. 15.

RBS: You moved ahead on this in the middle of a bad recession. Was it hard to line up financing?

SU: It was a challenge at first. I mean, you walk into a bank and say the words “real estate,” “development” and “entertainment facility” in the same sentence, and most of them will show you the door.

In fact, when we moved ahead with our Uptown Alley in Phoenix, one of the hardest-hit markets in the country, we had to pay cash for it. But they’ve seen what we’re doing out there, and they are paying attention. We’ve exceeded our expectations two times.

RBS: Did you finance the Chesterfield location?

SU: We did. We had to put in more equity than we would have liked. But we have a great relationship with Sonabank. They were quick to jump on and finance the construction. And Fulton Bank has the underlying real estate loan. Both banks have been great for us.

RBS: What’s your competition for Uptown Alley? Movie theaters?

SU: Actually, we like to be close to movie theaters. We complement each others’ businesses. Out in Chesterfield, we are near one of the best theaters in the area, Commonwealth 20.

Especially in the current economy, we’re seeing people chose more and more to stay close to home for their entertainment. People want entertainment close and at a reasonable price. I think we deliver that.

I think our competition is more the older bowling alleys, but I’m not sure they are even much competition, because we do so much more.

RBS: Who’s going to go to Uptown Alley?

SU: The demographics are amazing. We’ve got two restaurants, two bars, rooms for birthday parties, 40 lanes. Out in Phoenix, you should see it. We have groups of guys coming in to watch the Olympics, and soon they’ll be watching football. We have groups of women coming in and drinking martinis. We have kids.

It’s actually fun to see people migrating to various parts of the facility. We think it’s going to be very successful.

RBS: What’s next for you and Uphoff Ventures?

SU: We’ll be focusing on our apartment project at Belvidere and Grace in Richmond. We’ll be looking at other markets across the country for Uptown Alley. And we’re always looking for new projects right here in Virginia and the Richmond area.

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  1. Liz Fuhr Van Ness August 13, 2012 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Congrats to you Steve!

  2. Randy Reynolds August 13, 2012 at 10:12 am - Reply

    It takes guts to do this today! Great job! That’s what our economy needs more of.

  3. Scott August 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    I have been to Uptown in Phoenix (actually, it is in Surprise, Arizona). I live within walking distance of the center.

    The place is amazing and the kids love it. Almost every weekend, there are people standing in line to get in as they are usually at capacity.

    We were there just last night watching Monday Night Football and will be there all season!

  4. Mike View August 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Great job. The Uppy’s gas station operation is first class.
    I’m sure this venture has been well thought-out and has a great chance of success. Best of luck.

    My political rant:
    Of course President Obama would say that “he didn’t build these businesses”….or create employment for all of these people. Good thing he wasn’t required to pay all of his earnings back in Fed. taxes. He wouldn’t have been able to self finance the Phoenix project or put more equity into this project. Both of which created jobs…..

  5. Jerry Miles August 15, 2012 at 9:53 am - Reply

    Great idea, We here in North Louisiana have a 40 lane center that’s run down. Just resurfaced the lanes. Manual scoring. This center use to be great but with new owners and no idea of the bowling business it’s sad. We lose bowlers and leagues each year due to the customer owner relationship. I have been on the PBA tour, bowl, now , in as many tournaments as I can. A few of us travel 100 miles one way each week to bowl in a house the will let us practice our game for tournaments. being a USBC certified coach, I am interested in the youthh programs . There are non now since our new owner took over. if you were ever interested in coming this far south we would greatly appreciate you discussing a venture. I had run the pro shop here but now am opening one of my own due to the new ownership. You can’t have people run your center that are not the least familiar with bowling. Thanks for taking the time to read. Congratulations on a fabulous accomplishment.

  6. Don Monroe August 20, 2012 at 9:49 am - Reply

    “I think our competition is more the older bowling alleys, but I’m not sure they are even much competition, because we do so much more.” If you don’t know why, then you don’t know anything about bowling. Most of the cash comes from league bowling. Most bowlers bowl 2 or more leagues each, with an average of 5-person teams with 20 lanes per league. Most of them do not want to bowl on lanes that have candy and soda all over the lanes, where they may stick and fall. If the lanes are not maintained properly, you will lose them. Old bowling alleys know this and keep the maintenance up. If you don’t learn that real quick, you may a well get rid of 30 of the lanes and buy a lot of house shoes, because you won’t attract the cash-cow leagues.

  7. Scott kent December 1, 2012 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Well,were do I start; I have been to uptown about 4 times in the past 2 weeks since you guys have opened. Let me say, great place and I have never experienced anything like it. I also like to commend you guys for building a great location in the commonwealth, it is great to see that even amongst a passive recession that people like yourself are willing to take a risk. I would however like to address some concerns. Everything has a grade of an A but the service from both the rotunda bar the upstairs bowling lanes have a grade of an F. I am not being harsh I just wanted to bring this to your attention. There were at least 7 bartenders behind the rotunda bar on Friday night and it still took 15 min to get a drink and 32 min to close out my tab on 2 drinks. We then got a lane to bowl and it took 25 min before the waitress came over and another 40 min before she would bring me a lousy coke. I’m sorry but for 21 million in construction and operations cost these people need to be on point. The faster you bring me my drinks and food the faster I will order more and spend more money helping out your cause. Now I know this is not your specific problem and its more of a management problem that is working but like I said I have been 4 times and its the same thing every time. My personal opinion you have staff that needs to go. How long are you going to here ” we just opened and bare with us” I sorry maybe they need to train harder or work faster to make their money. I have been in the restaurant business for over 15 years and I have never seen anything like it. 7 bartenders behind the bar way to many, I have friends that work in downtown clubs that can work that bar with 3 people and no wait., not to mention there were at least 12 waiters and waitresses on the floor, 12!. I would not say anything usually and let you guys work the kinks out but like I said 21 million you need to make a quit of bit of money every night to break even and your staff is not helping you. I could come in there and in about 3 weeks have that place running like a well oiled machine, I would be able to increase bar and food orders by at least 20 percent in the first 2 nights just by implementing a few factors. Either way I want you guys to succeed but, knowing customers these days they will get tired of lack of service and your revenue will drop significantly after about 6 months if these issues are not addressed. Just thought I would let you know. 3 key factors for success; more training, customer service, willingness to succeed.

  8. Sheretta Jones January 28, 2013 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    A friend of mine and I visited your establishment back in early December and enjoyed it. He is a bowling coach for a college in Elizabeth City North Carolina and currently runs the bowling alley on campus which only has a few lanes but host parties and events for the school and sometimes the public. We had been in conversation about trying to do the exact same thing that you just mastered only in Elizabeth City NC. Had looked at land and everything. I live here in Richmond and as soon as I heard about the new bowling alley I told him he had to come and check it out. He had a bowlling tourney in Richmond the end of December at a local bowling alley here and we ventured down to Uptown Alley one evening. Like I said we loved it. If you’re ever interested in venturing to NC, please do not hesitate to let me know. This young man is fully capable of being a general manager for your establishment. (We agreed instead of blazing a trail we could co exist with someone else). Elizabeth City NC houses 1 University 2 Community Colleges, and several surrounding towns to feed from. Most people venture to Va for entertainment. It’s only 30 minutes up teh road to Suffolk/Chesapeake. Again if you’re ever interested in venturing to that area please allow us to assist you. Thanks

  9. Sheretta Jones January 28, 2013 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Sorry I’d also like to add there is a fully running Aviation Coast Guard Base in Elizabeth City too. I know the town and and surrounding towns would love to have something like this for entertainment. The current bowling alley in the city does not serve food and is just a run of the mill bowling alley. We wanted to add a movie theater inside the bowling alley since the theater in the city has only two screens and most people still drive to VA to catch movies. Like I said something we’ve put our mind to to make happen and stumbled on your blueprint in the process. Look forward to hearing from you.

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