Eyes down, heads up as Empire stays strong
Hidden beneath the carpets and stage are secrets of a bygone era, an age when revellers danced the night away as they watched some of the biggest names in music perform; The Beatles, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, and Gerry and the Pacemakers.
The carpet covers parque flooring that used to be the iconic Sands Casino’s dance floor, while the stage hides the dressing rooms once used by superstars in the cabaret heydey of the 60s.
And now, all these decades later, the hard work of 70-year-old Elaine Bottomley ensured the bingo hall she opened up there has escaped the history books rather than being consigned to them.
To borrow some bingo lingo, it’s a case of droopy drawers and not out at Empire in Hawes Side Lane, Marton, despite several similar venues shutting up shop in the past decade alone.
Some 44 years after expanding her and her husband John’s empire, Elaine, aided by her daughter Linzie and her loyal band of staff, are still going strong – and preparing to see off fresh competition.
Linzie said that, by offering a personal service, the business will be able to compete if bingo giant Club 3000 is successful in its bid to open up on the site of the Swift Hound pub off Rigby Road.
The 38-year-old said: “It would be a great shame for anything to happen to the place, but we have to be realistic, Club 3000 is massive. It’s within walking distance of us. But it’s a different bingo environment.
“It’s like going into your corner shop or going into Tesco. One is smaller, and you will walk into Empire and be asked, ‘How are you doing, Mike?’
“The bigger places struggle with that. I hope they do well; Blackpool needs something, but we hope it does not hammer the Empire.
“What will be, will be.”
And the secret of Empire’s success, according to Linzie? Her mum.
“She is funny, and light-hearted,” she said.
“We can’t pay out the money the others can, but the Empire offers a more personal service that makes all the difference.”
Empire was opened in 1974 by Elaine and her late husband John, who died in 1990.
At the time, they already had several clubs: the Palladium in Waterloo Road; MartonBingo Club at Oxford Square; Talbot Bingo Club in Lytham Road; Exchange Bingo Club in Talbot Road; and the Ashton Bingo Club in St Annes Square.
Elaine said: “My husband died and I was left to sort stuff out. I was left with three kids in a bit of a mess.
“I had to get rid and decided to work the Empire. I had six months of problems, but then I turned it round and put my heart and soul into it.
“I schooled my three kids at Arnold, so it has been good to us. The biggest issue came with the smoking ban.
“It decimated all the leisure activities. With a cigarette and a pint of bitter goes a game of bingo or a pound on the horses.
“When the smoking went, even those who don’t smoke didn’t want to go somewhere where, during an interval, their mates went outside and left them. It became an antisocial night.”
Elaine said she has no plans to throw in the towel just yet. And just as the resort proves it can still attract the biggest names in music – with Britney Spears and Mariah Carey set to perform here this year – Empire has shown that, despite a number of bingo halls closing in the past decade, the characters behind the number 88 moniker haven’t begun belting out their swansong just yet.
New Â£7m hall
The Swift Hound pub off Rigby Road, is set to be demolished and replaced with a new 2,585sqm building, with Club 3000 Bingo set to move in.
A drive-through restaurant is also planned for the Â£6.8m development, plans showed.
The retail park is already home to an Odeon cinema, a Bannatyne’s gym, a McDonald’s with drive-thru, and, across the road from the Swift Hound, a Frankie & Benny’s Italian-American diner.