June 28, 2006

Sharon Joseph ’97

Sharon Joseph ’97 and her aunt opened Harlem Lanes, the first bowling alley in Harlem in nearly 30 years.

When Sharon Joseph ’97 was growing up in Harlem, she was inspired by entrepreneurs in the neighborhood. “I saw women who owned beauty shops, families who ran funeral homes and restaurants—and these people are now a dying breed,” says Joseph, who with her aunt and business partner, Gail Richards (at right in photo), opened Harlem Lanes, the first bowling alley in Harlem in nearly 30 years. “I want to make sure that my daughter gets to see business owners who look like us.”

Joseph first thought about bringing a sports facility to Harlem when she was a student in the School’s Entrepreneurship Program, but she found that the community wasn’t ready. “The economic landscape of Harlem is really changing,” says Joseph, who garnered support from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and the Harlem Small Business Initiative—both led by former President Bill Clinton—as well as from former professors and Columbia classmates before renovating the historic Alhambra Ballroom building. “I’ve learned that being an entrepreneur isn’t a job,” she says. “It’s a way of life.”

Harlem Lanes may eventually be found in places like Detroit and Indianapolis. “Having gone to Columbia, the goal is always to think big and to create a branding,” says Joseph. “We want to consider the other Harlems out there and become a kind of epicenter for these communities. If people know that Harlem Lanes stands for quality and a great upscale experience at an affordable price, they’ll go. And they’ll know that they can go no matter where they are.”

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