SOUTH GLENS FALLS — After 137 days, bowling alley operators on Friday said their facilities are safe, clean and ready to roll, but their businesses are in danger of falling into the gutter because the state has yet to provide guidelines on how they can reopen.
About 300 bowling alley operators statewide have been without income for more than four months and are in danger of missing out on essential revenue from fall leagues, said Doug Bohannon, the owner of Kingpin’s Alley Family Fun Center in South Glens Falls and the president of the New York State Bowling Proprietors Association.
“We’re worried and we’re scared,” he said at a press conference inside his 42-lane business, where more than two dozen other owners from across the state had gathered to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow bowling centers to open.
State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, and Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, were also in attendance.
Risking a permanent closure
The fall league season attracts hundreds of bowlers to centers like Kingpin’s across the state, accounting for thousands in revenue. Without that income, Bohannon said, dozens of alleys across the state are in danger of closing their doors permanently.
Two bowling alleys in the state closed in the last 10 days because of the shutdown, he said.
Several local bowling alleys, including Broadway Lanes in Fort Edward and Slate Valley Lanes in Granville, are also in danger of closing their doors for good.
“Each day that passes, we run the risk of losing more of these bowling centers,” Bohannon said.
The more than two dozen owners who gathered on Friday — some from as far as Binghamton and Oswego — said they were confused as to why the state won’t give them guidance on reopening.
Balls rolling elsewhere
Bowling alleys in New Jersey and Connecticut have been operating for weeks. Both states entered into a regional pact with New York at the onset of the pandemic back in March.
A spokesman for Cuomo said the agreement doesn’t mean each state’s plans have to be identical. New York, he said, is focused on keeping the infection rate low to prevent another shutdown.
“Reports show that infections are rising in more than 40 states and that officials in those states have been forced to re-close businesses and other parts of the economy that were opened too early. Every public opinion survey has shown an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support our reopening approach. We understand that some people aren’t happy — but better unhappy than sick or worse,” Jason Conwall, the Cuomo spokesman, said in a statement.
Bohannon argues that bowling centers can open safely and said the Proprietors Association has submitted a 23-page proposal to the state that addresses everything from social distancing to the disinfecting of shared equipment.
He said if bowling alleys close, not only would local economies suffer, but communities would lose a vital hub, where everything from birthday parties to fundraisers are hosted.
Junior bowlers also earn thousands in scholarships.
“The majority of bowling centers are owned by families, many of them are second- and third-generation operators that have served their communities for years,” he said.
Bowling alleys in New York employ more than 9,000 people, according to Jordan.
Since being forced to close on March 17, the centers have lost a combined $90 million in revenue, and employees have lost over $30 million in wages, she said.
Jordan said bowling centers are a “vital part” of the state’s economy and play a critical role in the communities they serve.
She said operators across New York have already put in place safety protocols, but they need the state to tell them what, if any, additional steps need to be taken.
“We do have to protect lives, but we also need to safeguard livelihoods,” Jordan said.
Woerner had similar sentiments, saying that bowling alleys are safe places where families can spend quality time together during the pandemic.
“It’s time for the governor to get to work, draft the guidelines and provide the direction for how bowling centers can reopen,” she said.
Plans take shape
Meanwhile, inside Kingpin’s, signs reminding visitors to maintain social distancing were spotted throughout the center. Plexiglass surrounds the counter, and sanitation stations were set up throughout the building.
Bohannon said there are 11-and-a-half feet between each set of lanes, more than enough space to maintain social distancing if bowlers use every other lane.
The center has bought disposable slip covers that go over shoes to allow people to bowl without renting shoes, and there are plans in place to disinfect every ball after use.
The Proprietor Association, last month, submitted at 23-page safety plan that would require everything from temperature checks to daily cleaning, but has not heard anything from state officials regarding the plan.
“During this entire month, we’ve heard nothing from Albany as to when we can get back to making a living,” Bohannon said
Sean and Brandon Bickford have operated Broadway Lanes in Fort Edward and Slate Valley Lanes in Granville for the last 25 years with their father, John.
They said both centers are in danger of closing because of the loss in revenue created by the shutdown. Revenue, the brothers said, is down 95% compared to last year.
“If we don’t get going and are able to have our fall leagues, it’s going to be a grim sight,” Sean said. “We need to have fall leagues to be able to continue as a business.”
The brothers have been forced to lay off 10 employees. A loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program allowed them to rehire staff temporarily, but that has since expired.
Elsewhere, local nonprofits, like Big Brother Big Sisters of the Southern Adirondacks, have been left with a major revenue gap because they can no longer have a place to host popular fund raisers.
The organization hosts its Bowl for Kids’ Sake charity event at Kingpin’s each year. The event raises over $120,000 and allows the organization to support children throughout the region.
Without that support, dozens of children will be left without the organization’s services, said Bill Moon, executive director of Big Brother Big Sisters of the Southern Adirondacks.
“Bowling alleys are more than just a business that employs individuals, as if that wasn’t important enough. They’re community hubs,” he said.
Bohannon, meanwhile, said bowling center proprietors can’t wait any longer.
“I can assure that if bowling centers cannot floor their fall leagues in September, the number of centers that are going to fail will grow exponentially,” he said.
Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.
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