This week’s announcement by Gov. Jay Inslee allowing bowling alleys to reopen was a surprise for Eddie Williams, manager of Lilac Lanes in Spokane.
Williams has been waiting, planning and advocating for bowling centers to reopen since they closed with many businesses in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Washington.
Before Inslee released new guidelines Thursday, allowing for bowling centers and museums to open with restrictions, bowling alleys weren’t set to open until Phase 4, which included opening sports stadiums.
The bowling industry flourishes in colder months, and Williams predicted closures extending into January would mean half of bowling centers would be forced to close permanently.
“We’ve been pretty diligent and positive,” Williams said.
He’s been in regular contact with Adam McDaniels, an Eastern Washington representative of Inslee’s office.
Williams and other bowling alley managers and owners had proposed opening to league bowlers only, with every other lane in operation and with no shoe or ball rentals, he said.
Inslee’s orders give a little more leeway. The new guidelines allow bowling centers to open under Phase 2 and 4 of the state’s Safe Start plan, with no spectators or shared equipment.
While restriction of only two people per alley are stricter than Williams expected, he can open every lane in his grocery store-sized alley.
With sanitation between each use, bowling centers can also rent out balls and shoes, according to the new guidelines.
Only league and club members will be allowed to bowl, reducing income by a significant margin.
Because of the two-per-lane restriction, the number of league bowlers allowed in the building at a given time is much fewer, he said.
Lilac Lanes has hosted nearly 1,000 league bowlers per week in the past, and the new restrictions will only allow for 400 per week.
To make some room for overflow, Lilac Lanes will start a bowling club for members who are waiting to join a league, Williams said.
Cutting costs will be necessary, Williams said, so the bowling center’s full staff won’t be returning while Phase 2 or 3 restrictions remain, he said.
Williams hopes by keeping bowlers protected from the virus, the governor will feel comfortable “loosening the straps” even more in the coming months, he said.
“We’re hoping everyone in the bowling industry really takes advantage of this and proves bowling is a safe environment for people to come and enjoy themselves,” he said.
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