Bowling alleys may be forced to close permanently if the state doesn’t adjust COVID-19 restrictions to allow them to reopen, say those involved in the industry.
Family and entertainment and recreation centers, including bowling alleys, are prohibited from reopening until Phase 4 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan.
Under previous guidance, recreation centers had been permitted to reopen in Phase 3 at 25% capacity, but Inslee pushed them back to Phase 4 in July in response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Skagit County remains in Phase 2, and Inslee has put a pause on counties reopening further.
If bowling centers have to wait to Phase 4 to reopen, many won’t make it, said Chris VanEsch, general manager of Riverside Lanes in Mount Vernon.
“It’s getting pretty dire,” he said. “We were almost to Phase 3. Now it’s not even reachable.”
About 35 people attended a “Bring Back Bowling to Washington” rally Saturday near the Mount Vernon bowling alley. The event coincided with rallies statewide organized by the Washington State Bowling Proprietors Association.
Greg Olsen, the association’s executive director, said in an interview about half of the industry group’s 65 members indicated their businesses would permanently close by November if they can’t reopen.
One facility, Glacier Lanes in Everett, has already closed.
Olsen said bowling alleys should operate with restrictions similar to those of health and fitness clubs.
“Phase 4 is a death sentence,” he said. “You can’t go bowling until you can go to a Seahawks game.”
Clarissa West, of Mount Vernon, attended the Saturday rally, holding signs with members of her bowling team. She said she has bowled at Riverside Lanes for 20 years, and that if businesses such as bars are allowed to reopen, so should bowling alleys.
Jeff Davis, of Fall City, also came out to the rally with wife Diane and 14-year-old son Harry. It was the third bowling rally the family had attended since Friday.
“The majority (of bowling alleys) are family-owned and we know they’ve put in place the protocols to keep us safe,” Jeff Davis said.
The statewide bowling association has developed a list of 17 safety and hygiene protocols for safe reopening. Those include limiting club and open play bowling to reservation only, the sanitizing of bowling balls and rental shoes, and reducing building capacity to 50%.
Facial coverings would be required at all times, except while eating and drinking.
VanEsch said part of the problem is the public’s perception that bowling alleys are unsanitary, even though they involve less handling of objects than at grocery stores.
He said even if bowling alleys were permitted to reopen only to league players, who typically bring their own balls and shoes, it would help them stay afloat.
Mike Faulk, spokesperson for Inslee’s office, said bowling industry representatives have been discussing reopening with Inslee’s office, but that Inslee’s guidance remains unchanged.
VanEsch said if Riverside Lanes had to permanently close, it would mean the loss of an iconic business and a venue for community fundraisers.
Other bowling alleys in Skagit County are in a similar position.
In Sedro-Woolley, Ellie Martinez made a big investment when she bought and revitalized a long-vacant 1940s-era bowling alley that reopened as Sedro 10 Bowling & Deli Shez Café in January.
Martinez, who did not attend Saturday’s rally, said she still has to pay to maintain the building, even with no income. She said bowling by reservation only would at least help pay the bills.
“One thing I noticed is the town doesn’t have one place for families and kids to go,” she said. “I want to keep it for them.”
A roller skating rink in Burlington is also struggling because it cannot open until Phase 4.
Gary Englund, who opened Skagit Skate with wife Karen in 1999, said the couple has had to dig into their retirement savings to survive.
Englund said maintaining physical distancing while skating could be challenging, but that the business could reopen only to private parties to limit capacity.
“The million dollar question right now is how long can we survive?” he said. “... It’s a matter of time, unless we were able to get additional grants or some type of funding to help out.”