MOST years, officials from the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh celebrate their King’s birthday on December 5 with a few games of ten-pin bowling in a half-deserted shopping mall.
Owner of Parkway Square Super Bowl, Ben Sereilen, said the embassy had been marking the royal milestone at her bowling alley over the last 12 years.
Such regular customers are the lifeblood of the business, which is tucked away on the second floor of the capital’s ageing Parkway Square shopping centre on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard.
Visit early on a weekday, and you will likely have the whole place to yourself.
But it’s a different story in the evenings and weekends, when Ben Sereilen said regular groups from embassies, firms and English language schools booked out many of the alley’s dozen bowling lanes.
“On Saturday and Sunday it’s full, morning until evening,” she said.
Super Bowl was the first bowling alley in the Kingdom when it opened in 1996, she said .
Ben Sereilen said she invested a lot of money establishing the trail-blazing business – it cost US$20,000 a month just to hire an American engineer to install the equipment.
The alley was initially popular with foreigners who already knew how to bowl, but it took about seven or eight years for it to catch on with Cambodian players unfamiliar with the game.
“It was difficult because Cambodians never knew how to play, so we expanded the staff to explain and to show them,” she said.
The company now employs 15 people to operate the equipment, take care of customers, clean the premises and provide catering facilities.
Ben Sereilen said the business had made a good profit at first, but revenue had fallen off more recently due to the economic crisis. “Before, the economy of our country was so good. The customers dared to spend money, but right now some customers are saving money,” she said.
To attract more players, the alley has dropped prices from $8 an hour per lane to $6 an hour.
“If the economy is better we will raise the prices again,” she said.
Ben Sereilen was also planning to attract more customers by redecorating the premises and updating the equipment, including replacing broken machinery on two lanes. She said December was typically a busy month for the business.
“This month we have so many customers because it is nearly Christmas Day, and some customers want to throw a party, so they want to play here,” she said.