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Bowlers rally for bowling centers to open before Phase 4; owners say their future is at stake

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 8, 2020

Mark and Sharlene Palos, owners of North Bowl bowling alley, sign bowling pins that will be sent to Gov. Jay Inslee urging officials to lift restrictions on bowling statewide. About two dozen bowling enthusiasts attended a Bring Back Bowling to Washington rally Saturday outside of Lilac Lanes.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Mark and Sharlene Palos, owners of North Bowl bowling alley, sign bowling pins that will be sent to Gov. Jay Inslee urging officials to lift restrictions on bowling statewide. About two dozen bowling enthusiasts attended a Bring Back Bowling to Washington rally Saturday outside of Lilac Lanes. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Eddie Williams estimates half of all bowling centers in Washington will go under if current restrictions keep them closed through January.

Williams, manager at Lilac Lanes and Casino in Spokane since 2007, said the outdoor, tented card room his business opened has been their primary source of income, but the tent cost $40,000.

His patrons don’t want to see the business go belly up, so Saturday morning they demonstrated in the parking lot. About 45 minutes into the event, 20 or so people milled around the parking lot while the card room tent was full of people of all ages.

Williams said current rules don’t make sense to him. While bars continue to operate, Williams said his 32-lane facility can provide much more distance than many restaurants by opening every other lane and removing all loose seating.

“We naturally social distance,” Williams said. “Our building is 7,000 square feet. We’re the size of a grocery store.”

Most bowling centers are mom-and-pop businesses, said Gregory Olsen, Executive Director of the Washington State Bowling Proprietors Association.

Bowling centers are currently slated to open in Phase 4 in Washington’s coronavirus-related reopening plan .

“When the government put bowling in Phase 4, that’s Siberia,” Olsen said. “Phase 4 is like going to a Seahawks game.”

Olsen, Williams and bowlers around the state have advocated for moving bowling alleys’ reopening mile mark to Phase 3, while bowling clubs could meet in Phase 2, with club bowlers bringing their own shoes and ball.

Under Phase 3, Williams said bowling centers could give patrons a single ball each, which they’d leave with their rented shoes at their alley. Staff would then bring shoes and balls back to the front desk to sanitize.

“We understand the dangers of what’s going on,” Williams said.

But the clock is ticking, Williams said, and limited openings for club members could save Lilac Lanes and other alleys. He said centers see a dip in business every summer, but bowling September through April keeps the industry going.

“They’ve talked about us opening in January,” Williams said. “Maybe there’s a handful of bowling centers that can sustain themselves until then, maybe we’ll be one, but it’s not fair.”

Maggie Quinlan can be reached at (509) 459-5135 or at maggieq@spokesman.com

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