Texas Bowling Alleys Reopening, Sparing No Expense for Safety

Bowling Centers Reopen And Bar No Expenses To Ensure Safety

By Reena Diamante via SpectrumLocalNews.com

TEXAS — Ahead of Memorial Day, bars, bowling alleys, and bingo halls are all allowed to be back open with reduced capacity. It is part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s goal to reboot the state’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic. One owner of a decades-old bowling alley is pinning his hopes on customers stopping by his small business this holiday weekend.

Starting May 22, Texans can strike bowling alleys off the list of businesses closed. It will be hard to find anyone more excited about that than 47-year-old Bryan Pogor, who has been throwing it down at Highland Lanes in North Austin since he was about 6 years old.

“Highland, specifically, is my happy place. I always feel safe here. I’ve been coming here pretty much my whole life,” Pogor said.

The competitive player was one of the first to show up for reopening day after life under lockdown. Pogor plays in a league and before the pandemic, he would sometimes stop by the bowling alley up to four times a week.

“If there may be some other aspect of my life that is stressful or worrisome or something, that kind of goes away when I start bowling. I’m able to focus on bowling and that I think helps me relax and get back to what I need to do,” he said.

The longtime family owners of Highland Lanes, who also operate Dart Bowl and Westgate Lanes, are sparing no expense when it comes to safety.

“I view it as very important, because that’s what gives people a comfort level to come in and bowl,” owner John Donovan said.

Staff at Highland Lanes have taken away some tables to maintain six feet distance on their course. Employees wipe down surfaces regularly and when customers are finished in a lane. Plexiglass shields were added to the front desk, where employees disinfect shoes. Instead of leaving bowling balls out, there is a room with a new machine to clean bowling balls at high temperatures. Staff members will then hand out clean bowling balls to players.

“We’re ideally suited for someone to have an activity, but keep people separate. When we space people out with a lane in between them and only use half of our lanes at the most. They’re well suited,” Donovan said.

The minimum standard health protocols for bowling alleys includes, but is not limited to:

  • Configure your facility such that customers are separated by at least six feet
  • Disinfect all equipment, including inside all bowling balls, shoes, and other rental equipment, before and after customer use
  • Make hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectant readily available
  • Consider having all employees and contractors wear cloth face coverings.
  • If the bowling alley provides a meal for employees and/or contractors, the bowling alley is recommended to have the meal individually packed for each individual

Donovan said they are implementing whatever it takes to keep longtime employees working. He told Spectrum News that after two months of closures he feared having to let some staff members go. With the help of a small business loan, he said it did not happen, but having to pay other bills has been nerve-racking.

“I’m so excited to be able to get back to work. I’m excited for my people, my employees to be able to have a job. I mean, it’s a scary time and if we can keep our people employed, that’s a good thing,” Donovan said.

Returning customers know while it may not be the perfect game right away, it is one they are willing to make adjustments for to keep playing. Pogor said it was his first time bowling with a mask on.

“Don’t be afraid to come bowling and wear a mask. I just did it for two and a half hours. It wasn’t that bad,” he said.

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The cancellation of events such as the Open Championships was especially painful for Reno, which was supposed to host the event this year.

The USBC Open Championships were initially rescheduled from their original March 21 date to May 1 as the coronavirus pandemic started to make its presence known in the United States. With the number of COVID-19 cases still increasing in several parts of the country, however, the USBC decided to pull the plug on its major events — a move that Murphy described as “heartbreaking.”

 

The decision to cancel the events is understandable, said Jennifer Cunningham, acting CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.

“While we are disappointed, we completely respect their focus … on the health and safety of their participants as well as our community at large,” Cunningham said. “As different states started rolling out different guidelines for travel and restrictions, they felt it was best for their organization to ultimately cancel (the events).”

The RSCVA is just one of several organizations such as the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority dealing with the massive impact of COVID-19 on tourism and travel. Earlier this year, the RSCVA implemented steep cuts, including furloughs and reductions in pay, in response to the pandemic and the ensuing event cancellations. The cancellations include major annual events such as Hot August Nights, the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff and the Great Reno Balloon Race.

The advent of the coronavirus means organizations such as the RSCVA will need to learn to adjust to whatever new normal arises as a result of the pandemic.

“We’re going to have to be more nimble and definitely leaner, and learn to do more with less,” Cunningham said. “I think the time is now to really refocus and identify those priorities that we have in order to bring business to the city moving forward.”

The good news is that activity has not completely died out. There are still smaller events and conferences in the books and interest also remains for future dates. Just recently, the RSCVA sales team worked on a deal that would bring 13,000 room nights to the area in 2024.

The RSCVA is looking toward 2021 and subsequent years, including working with organizers to make sure that special events remain viable. Murphy of the USBC echoed the same sentiment.

“Our hope is that conditions improve to allow national events again in 2021,” Murphy said.

Jason Hidalgo covers business and technology for the Reno Gazette Journal, and also reviews the latest video games. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo. Like this content? Support local journalism with an RGJ digital subscription.

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