MILLINOCKET, Maine — About 40 relatives of Robert Benjamin were staying in camps around town for a reunion last July, and he decided one rainy day to take everybody bowling. He called the owner of the Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes regions’ only bowling alley on Penobscot Avenue to see whether it was still open.
The owner said no.
“That got me to thinking,” Benjamin said Tuesday, “that there are a lot of people like me — campers and people on rainy days, or at family reunions — who would love to go bowling sometimes. You go to camp, and if it rains, you stay inside and play Monopoly with the kids, and they get bored. In terms of campers, [the area needs] something for them and the kids to go and do at night.”
That’s why Benjamin, a Massachusetts developer who owns several buildings in town, bought the Penobscot Avenue bowling alley, renamed it Pins ’N Cues, reopened it earlier this year and added an ice cream window over the Fourth of July.
“We are quite pleased,” Benjamin said of Pins ’N Cues’ business. “It’s not booming, but we have spurts that are good. The good weather will help the ice cream, and the rainy weather will help the bowling alley.”
He declined to name the sale price for the 12-lane candlepin bowling alley, arcade and five-table pool hall or the cost of the renovation.
About 20 people stood in line for ice cream or sat in the beds of pickup trucks and hatchbacks along Penobscot Avenue at dusk last Thursday. They seemed to enjoy the ice cream.
“It was lopsided. It wasn’t in the middle of my cone. It had a big bend in it,” said Michelle Hayes of Millinocket, “but it was yummy. I had creme de menthe with chocolate chips on it.”
While ice cream is sold from a truck at the park near Pins ’N Cues, and several food stores sell hard ice cream, Pins ’N Cues might be the only storefront to sell soft ice cream in the Katahdin region. A Google search on Tuesday showed no other such businesses in East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket.
“He will get some stiff competition from Daigle’s,” Dale Hayes said of the truck at the park. “They are both very good.”
Benjamin said he has a contract to sell the 24-flavor ice cream brand once sold at the Downtown Restaurant, which closed in November. He finds it ironic that since he came to Millinocket more than four years ago, some residents have accused him of refusing to rent the buildings he owns downtown as an alleged part of an environmentalist conspiracy to depopulate the region.
“I have for-rent signs on all of my buildings. If anybody wants to manage them for me, I would take any tenants they can get. I will give them three or four months’ rent as commission if they will find a business that wants to rent downtown,” he said. “Right now I would rent them for chicken feed.”
Benjamin hopes that the synergy among his place, the nearby Blue Ox Saloon, Scootic Inn, Hang Wong Chinese restaurant and rebuilt Downtown Restaurant — which the Discovery Channel’s “American Loggers” family, the Pelletiers, hopes to reopen in September — will help revitalize downtown.
Besides an Internet cafe, Benjamin hopes over the next year to add to the bowling alley a new roof, lighting, restrooms, heating and air-conditioning systems, a full kitchen, a canopy over the ice cream window, and outdoor picnic tables.
League bowling likely will resume in September, he said. Anyone interested in joining a league may call the alley at 447-1000, or stop by and see manager Tim Benjamin, Robert’s brother.