Bowling center owner, proprietors’ executive don’t want closure to be indefinite

On Tuesday, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced that the state would take new measures to try and hinder the rising spread of COVID-19.

In addition to the closing of casinos and museums, bowling centers across the state are being told to close their doors.

“I think if things are done correctly, that we can reopen,” Bill Duff, executive director of the Illinois State Bowling Proprietors Association, said. “The problem is, you can’t get back the revenue, the income you would get from holiday: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s if it goes that far — but definitely (losing out on) Thanksgiving is a foregone conclusion. Now that we’re getting into colder weather . . . when people go indoors, that’s when centers are busier.

“I get what the state is trying to do without putting it down to a total shutdown and we want to be good players through this whole thing but you have to let businesses have a chance at success.”

That success comes by having a clear timeframe, said Craig Rhodes, one of the co-owners of Springfield’s King Pin Lanes.

“Don’t close us down and just let us twist in the wind until they decide that, according to their standards, everything is cool,” Rhodes said. “If they’re going to force us to do this from the start and then let us work in that timeframe. King Pin can budget to be closed for 14 days if we have to be — even though we don’t want to be.

“Here’s the part that really bothers me: the last time this happened, it was, ‘All I need is two weeks to flatten the curve.’ And two weeks pretty soon turned into an excess of 100 days,” Rhodes said.

Duff said several bowling centers in the state of Illinois weren’t able to reopen after the extensive closure earlier this year and that many more still haven’t returned to pre-coronavirus employment levels.

Bowling centers were listed under the state’s Tier 3 mitigations category of indoor recreation, theaters, cultural Institutions: “Indoor recreation centers, including theaters, performing arts centers and indoor museums and amusement centers close.” However, Duff said part of an agreement to settle a lawsuit the ISBPA filed against the state in July moved bowling from indoor recreation to an all-sports designation.

While that designation doesn’t alter Friday’s restrictions, Duff said the ISBPA attorneys were working with the state’s attorney’s general office to make sure the Illinois Department of Public Health reclassifies bowling into the all-sports category to make sure a return to open isn’t unnecessarily delayed for bowling centers statewide.

Rhodes knows that many business owners have faced a backlash of criticism for speaking out in opposition to mitigation efforts. But he insists any “profits-over-people” accusations are off the mark.

“That’s not how we feel about it,” Rhodes said. “We feel that we’re a business: we want to be open and those that choose to come to visit us, please do. Those that don’t want to, don’t.”

Rhodes said he hasn’t heard of any instances of outbreaks within his center and Duff said his information has mirrored that around the state.

“King Pin has done its very best to be ahead of the curve or toe the line on guidelines: extra cleaning, extra precautions, getting on people about masks ad nauseam until they don’t like us anymore,” Rhodes said. “I would like to think that we have done everything that we’ve been asked to do (and went) above and beyond as good as anybody could do it.”

He added the regulars have all worn the masks — even if some don’t like it — to ensure the opportunity to bowl continued.

“King Pin is a clubhouse. People that come to King Pin love being here and they want nothing more than to be able to still come here,” Rhodes said. “And if (mask wearing) is the only stumbling block to get them to come to their clubhouse, they are willing to do it — maybe with a little grumbling.”

Duff said he’s told his members that as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, bowling centers will be closed and many owners have told him they are scared they may not return.

“It’s understandable (that owners are nervous) when any kind of industry is getting shutdown for a second time — especially right before the holiday season which is an important time for the bowling business,” Duff said. “There are a lot of people wary if they will even be able to reopen their bowling centers. It can’t go longer than a couple of weeks or we will be losing bowling centers.”

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