As groups of cheering children sought to knock down pins at Harlem Lanes on Friday morning, Joey Hill and Marsha Kindell had a different objective: get rid of mounds of documents.
Inside an office near the back of the bowling alley, at 126th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, Mr. Hill, 45, grabbed folders from a giant plastic tub and tossed them into a garbage bag at his feet.
Ms. Kindell, 31, picked sheets of paper from a pile on a desk, then guided them into a shredding machine. Paper shrapnel was scattered across the floor.
“We’ve been shredding for the past three days,” said Ms. Kindell, adding that most of the papers were old invoices or contained sensitive information, like credit card numbers, that had to be destroyed. She said she had lost count of how many bags of documents had been hauled out of the office.
The task of paper elimination was thrust upon Mr. Hill and Ms. Kindell when Sharon Joseph, the owner of Harlem Lanes, Harlem’s only bowling alley, announced that it would close for good on Sunday because of financial difficulties.
The alley’s closing is a precipitous fall from the fanfare that accompanied its opening. Former President Bill Clinton attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony in March 2006, because his foundation helped Ms. Joseph develop her business plan for the alley.
Weeks after the opening, the two-story, 25,000-square-foot bowling palace was fully booked with parties for its first three months.
On Friday, Ms. Joseph said that in years past, several high-profile athletes, including Kobe Bryant, Michael Strahan and Jerome Bettis, had visited Harlem Lanes to hold parties or fund-raisers.
“It really was an epicenter of the new Harlem,” she said.
The alley has 24 lanes, a sports bar, a kitchen, and a smattering of flat-screen televisions, arcade games and party rooms. It cost about $5 million to open, Ms. Joseph said, adding that she has also spent $1 million on renovations and maintenance.
It was also Harlem’s only bowling alley and the neighborhood’s first since Lenox Lanes closed in the 1980s.
But when the economy slowed in 2008, Ms. Joseph said, the attractions and the novelty were not enough to sustain the business.
That is a familiar refrain in Harlem. Hue-Man Bookstore, a popular neighborhood fixture, closed last week, its owner citing similar economic difficulties as part of the reason.
And other locally owned businesses, like Society Coffee and Nectar Wine Bar, have shut down within the last year, said Regina Smith, executive director of the Harlem Business Alliance.
“It’s been an ongoing issue, and it’s just been truly sad,” she said.
Continuing to run the business simply cost too much, Ms. Joseph said on Friday, adding that she had reached the point where “enough is enough.”
So while bowlers enjoyed the lanes until the end of the weekend, Ms. Joseph was trying to organize the aftermath. Everything was for sale, she said after talking to two local firefighters about selling them some of the couches.
As for anything that she could not get rid of, she said, plans were still being made. The bottom line was that the landlord had decreed that, “I have to have this place empty by Sunday,” she said.
The decision to close the bowling alley was not an easy one, Ms. Joseph said. But she described financial issues that piled up, including a reduction in the number of parties and corporate outings at the alley, the loss of money from her investors in February and the increasing difficulty of obtaining credit during the prolonged recession.
As a result, even basic expenses like rent and the electric bill — which increased year after year, she said — were too much for her to continue paying.
At the bowling alley on Friday some of the last patrons of Harlem Lanes lamented the loss of another local establishment.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” said Desean Grayson, 23, a camp counselor at the Harlem Y.M.C.A., as he handed out slices of pizza to campers.
Mr. Grayson said that the camp had visited the lanes four or five times each summer over the last few years. A visit, which had been scheduled before the closing date was determined, was moved up to Friday so that the campers could bowl once more, he said.
Back in the shredding room, Mr. Hill solemnly packed another trash bag full of folders. He had worked at Harlem Lanes for six years, he said, and was devastated to see it close.
“It’s a hurting feeling when you build stuff up and it falls down,” he said.