Bob Lawton, owner of the Funspot Family Entertainment Center in the Weirs and publisher of The Weirs Times, recently celebrated his 80th birthday amongst friends and well wishers at Funspot’s D.A. Long Tavern.
Born on March 2, 1931, Bob was only twenty-one years old when he opened the Weirs Sports Center, along with his brother John, above Tarlson’s Arcade on Lakeside Avenue on June 27th, 1952.
He borrowed $750 from his grandmother to get started. Today, Funspot, now located on Rte 3 in the Weirs, is the largest arcade in the world.
The Weirs Sport Center was a 9-hole indoor mini-golf course that cost thirty-five cents to play. A couple of years ago when cleaning out a storeroom , Bob came across his original ledger, handwritten in pen, showing the receipts from the first two years they were in business.
“We had 104 customers on that flrst day,” Bob recalled “We made $36.60 in golf and $5.60 in food, for a total of $42.20. Not a bad start. That first year we were open through Labor Day and grossed $290.00.”
Among the well wishers who stopped by to wish Bob a Happy Birthday were Paul and Nancy Fuchs of Gilford who went on their first date to the Weirs Sports Center to play ping-pong in the summer of 1960.
“I was working as a waitress at Chase’s in Meredith at the time,” Nancy recalled. “That night both Paul and I had dates with other people and we were both stood up. Paul had asked me out before so we decided to go out together to play ping pong at the Weirs Sports Center. Now we’ve been married for 48 years.”
The Fuchs were a little hesitant at first about going to Bob’s party.
“I wasn’t sure how he’d take the story,” said Nancy. “But I could tell that he truly enjoyed it and was happy to hear it. We’re glad we came by. Now I’m going to make a point of honking twice when I drive by Funspot and see Bob out on the mini-golf so he’ll know it’s me.”
“It gives me a great feeling to talk to people who have memories of the Weirs Sports Center and Funspot,” said Bob. “Some of the people who bring their grandkids in today to Funspot played at the Weirs Sports Center as teenagers.”
The continuing success of Funspot has always been because of Bob’s attention to change, knowing when something wasn’t working and realizing it was time to try something new.
“We never did anything just to do it,” said Bob. “We always made sure each project was something good to do and would create additional income. Everything always took a lot of planning.”
In the mid-1970s, the video game boom helped Funspot to flourish.
“We were in business for twenty-five years before we ever had a video game,” said Bob. “Before that it was all pinball and shooting games.”
Among the visitors who stopped by for Bob’s birthday was Steve Taber, a former player on one of Funspot’s pinball leagues from 1979.
In 1990, the video game boom went bust as it became easier to play the games at home on television consoles and computers.
“We adjusted by doing things like turning our maintenance shop into a bingo hall and adding the D.A. Long Tavern to help better service bowling leagues which were held just about every night,” said Bob.
Today Bob has recognized the attraction of prize games. Always a staple at both the Weirs Sports Center and Funspot, it has resurfaced in popularity as people like to play games that give out tickets that can be redeemed for a wide variety of prizes.
“Last year players won over 25 million tickets on our redemption games,” Bob said. “This year we expect to give out almost 40 million tickets for people to win great prizes at our prize counter.”
Ideas like this have helped Funspot keep pace with the changing generations.
David Ross, one of the newer generation of Funspot fans, presented Bob with a framed clay sculpture he made of the famous Funspot sign along with Funspot’s mascot, Topsnuf, the dragon.
“It was such a nice surprise,” said Bob. “It really made my birthday something special.”
Bob still works seven days a week about nine hours a day, doing whatever needs to be done around Funspot to keep it running smoothly. It is a work ethic he has had all of his life. To most people, that would be plenty, but in 1992, Bob had a new project in mind. He resurrected the Weirs Times newspaper. Originally published by Matthew Calvert from 1883-1902, Bob incorporated the original masthead and center map which is still used today.
Originally the production of the paper was given to graphics artist Ron Stevens who left the position suddenly in December of 1992. Bob, along with his daughter Sandra and son, David, decided to produce the paper themselves. Having no experience they had to learn quickly, and
they did, never missing a week of publication. It was a cut and paste layout in the early days.
“I spent thirty hours a week on the paper,” Bob said. “I’d be here all day Sunday laying out the paper. The deal was I would do it as long as no one came in while I was working.” In 2001 the paper layout went computerized freeing up Bob to put yet more hours into Funspot’s operation. The Weirs Times is now produced by Bob’s son, David and editor Brendan Smith while Bob proofreads a copy of each week’s publication before going to press. Sandra works as assistant to Bob at Funspot taking care of the day to day operations.
In 1996, Bob began, along with his son Tim, the Lake Wlnnipesaukee Historical Society, after Tim had found the davit from the steamer Mount Washington while scuba-diving at the Mount Washington’s wharf in the Weirs where the Mount burned in December of 1939.
Bob recalled: “Tim said, ‘I’ve found a lot of stuff diving over the years, what a shame if it was all lost. There should be a museum for all of it.”’
Today, the Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Society does have a museum with hundreds of members located right next to Funspot on Rte 3.
Bob also served sixteen years as a New Hampshire State legislator, the first twelve with is mother Doris and then later four years with his son David who served as a legislator for twelve years. While in the legislature, Bob introduced the bill, to have the state motto “Live Free or Die” printed on New Hampshire license plate.
The far reaching influence that Bob has had on the community was apparent by the turnout for his birthday celebration which had only been broadcast to the public on the front page of The Weirs Times and had only hit the streets the day before.
His family, children Donna Carlucci, Dave and Sandra Lawton as well as granddaughter Starr Lawton, suprised him With a new Ipad and, what might have been his favorite gift, a box of Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies.
“I was amazed by all the people who stopped by,” Bob said. “In the days since I have received so many cards and calls as well as people stopping me at Funspot to wish me a Happy Birthday. It really is a great feeling and I appreciate it very much.”
The next morning as Bob started on year 81 , he was up early as usual and over to Funspot to turn on all the lights and get ready for another days’ work.