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Omaha bowling pro shop reaches 40-year milestone, a legacy for father-son duo

Omaha bowling pro shop reaches 40-year milestone, a legacy for father-son duo

Tom Kelley's Pro Shop

Tom Kelley Sr., right, opened the bowling pro shop on South 84th Street in 1980. He had 19 years of experience in the business by then. Tom Jr. worked at the store as a teenager. Today, he and his wife, Xan, manage the shop.

It goes beyond the bowling balls, bags and shoes on display at Tom Kelley’s Pro Shop.

The reason the Omaha bowling pro shop first survived, and later thrived for the past 40 years is the two generations of family serving its customers.

Tom Kelley Sr. opened the shop – situated in Westgate Plaza at 3401 S. 84th St. on Aug. 11, 1980 – after learning the bowling business while working at the Rose Bowl for 19 years.

He learned to measure, fit and drill bowling balls, developing a huge clientele. He and his late wife, Emilie, and then 15-year-old son, Tom Kelley Jr., were the original employees of the pro shop. Son Wade Phillips and daughter Kaye Morris joined later.

Tom Kelley's Pro Shop

Tom Kelley's Pro Shop carries the latest in bowling equipment, from balls to bags to shoes. One change over 40 years has been the explosion of color in the gear.  

Today, the pro shop is run by Tom Jr. and his wife, Xan.

Ron Petak, a longtime Omaha bowler and a regular customer, said he won’t take his bowling business anywhere else. “The Kelleys are just good people,” he said. “They treat their customers right, and they know the business.”

In fact, Petak only allows the Kelleys – first Tom Sr. and later Tom Jr. – to drill his bowling balls. The Kelleys, he said, take time with their customers to learn about their game before beginning their work. “It goes beyond putting three holes in a bowling ball.”

Tom Sr. explained: “We know our customers. We ask them questions. The right questions.” The key is to make the ball feel comfortable in the bowler’s hand, Tom Sr. said. 

The Kelleys realize each bowler’s hand is unique – which means drilling has to be customized and each ball has to be laid out to match its player’s game. The pro shop still provides same-day service for ball drilling. “We’re always trying to improve what we do,” Tom Jr. said.

Tom Kelley's Pro Shop

Each bowling ball is drilled precisely to fit its owner's hand. 

Word spread and soon local bowling center employees were referring their business to Tom Kelley’s Pro Shop – pointing out the quality work done there.

Tom Sr. opened the shop during a time when the bowling industry, which hit its heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, was in transition.

In 1980, AMF introduced the black Angle urethane ball, which featured new technology and was twice as expensive as the plastic and rubber balls of the day. He bought 200 black Angles – that proved to be a worthy investment.

The pro shop's continuing success is a reflection of investing in new technology, staying focused on customer service and providing quality products, Tom Jr. said.

League and tournament bowlers, Tom Jr. said, are an important segment of the customer base, requiring the best in equipment and service. The Kelleys also welcome customers who are new to the game for recreation and fun.

“We help them find the right equipment to fit their skill level,” Tom Jr. said.

On any given day, customers will find 180 balls, 60 styles of shoes, 100 bags and a wide assortment of accessories.

“Our pro shop ranks among the Top 5 nationwide for square footage and inventory" according to industry sales reps who travel the country, Tom Jr. said.

Tom Kelley’s main shop in Omaha and satellite locations in Norfolk and Columbus draw customers from a six-state area and fans nationwide.

“We have transplants call and ask us to drill their new ball – because we have their measurements on file,” Xan Kelley said. “We’ll ship their ball right to their doorstep.”

Some customers have been with the pro shop for its 40 years, Tom Sr. said. Some even date back to his Rose Bowl days.

Customer loyalty means a lot.

“They come back because they know the job will be done right,” Tom Jr. said.

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