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The shutdown is over, it’s time to bowl in New York

News photo — Lou Reuter Bullwinkles in Lake Placid welcomed back its first bowlers on Monday since the state shut down the sport back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SARANAC LAKE — Businesses of all kinds in New York have been slowly reopening ever since the number of positive coronavirus cases have been steadily dropping across the state.

But some have been left in limbo as to when they can reopen, and one group forced to wait the longest has been New York’s bowling industry. On Friday, Aug. 14, the state’s bowling lanes finally received good news as they were permitted to open back up starting this past Monday.

That word came from Gov. Andrew Cuomo Friday morning in a 10-minute telephone press conference, during which the Democrat also stated guidelines for gyms reopening would come on Monday, and low-risk indoor cultural activities in New York City, like museums and aquariums, can open later this month under restrictions.

“Bowling alleys will be allowed to open on Monday,” Cuomo said on Aug. 14.

Like just about everything else, Cuomo stated new protocols will be in place for bowling alleys. His list included: “50% occupancy, you must have a face covering, every other lane closed, the parties stay with their party at the lane that they’re bowling, the establishment has to have cleaning and disinfecting protocols in place, especially on the shared end of rented equipment, food service, alcohol service only by wait service at the party’s location… they come to you.”

Obviously, the announcement provided relief for the owners of the three bowling establishments in the Tri-Lakes, which include one alley each in Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake. After hearing the news, Sonja Barney, who owns Bowlwinkles in Lake Placid with her husband Robert, said they were prepared to open on Monday. Meanwhile, Tupper Lake’s Lakeview Lanes and Romano’s Saranac Lanes in Saranac Lake, weren’t quite ready to take that step yet.

Echoing the views of alley owners across New York, Barney said before Aug. 14, it had been frustrating not receiving any guidelines from the state as to when and under what conditions bowling alleys would be able to open. She said fortunately, Bowlwinkles has had the bar and restaurant portion of its business operating, but noted the bowling end of things provides more than 50 % of their income.

Holding true to the plan, Bullwinkles did open for bowling on Monday. It was a slow start, but a step in the right direction nonetheless, according to Barney.

“We had a few bowlers come in,” Barney said. ”I wasn’t really sure how it would work out so I didn’t put it out there right away. I posted on Facebook around 2 o’clock that we were bowling.

“We only used two lanes, it wasn’t really busy, but I was so happy that people could bowl again,” she added.

Prior to Cuomo’s announcement, Barney said she had no idea of when bowling would start back up, but they took a proactive approach in anticipation of the reopening. Among the safety measures Bowlwinkles has already put in place is the purchase of a “fog” disinfecting unit, placing barriers between lanes and taking precautions regarding the use of house bowling balls and shoe rentals.

“I’m excited. We’re pretty much ready to go. It’s great,” Barney said just minutes after hearing the good news. “I think the best thing now is just knowing. Otherwise, we would have kept wondering ‘how long can we stay closed?'” When we first shut down, my husband thought this might last into September. I thought ‘no, this might only last for a month.’ He was almost right.”

Barney said it’s unfortunate that Bowlwinkles wasn’t able to take advantage of the influx of tourists who have flocked to Lake Placid so far this summer.

“We’re missing out on a lot of business. Summer is almost over,” she said. “Placid has been packed all summer, but it’s all been at the other end of town on Main Street. With the tourism, we’re in a different situation than Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake but we haven’t been able to take advantage of that this summer. Every now and then it rains, and where do people go in Lake Placid? They go to the movies or they go bowling. When that happens in the summer, we usually have a two-hour wait.”

Prior to the shutdown, Bullwinkles was open seven days a week. Barney said for now, the lanes will most likely be open five days a week, with possible hours being 3 to 10 p.m.

Right from the start, Barney noticed the rule that prohibits bowlers from leaving their lanes to order food or drinks is not an ideal situation, but said they will follow it.

“It’s kind of a pain,” she said. “Bowlers can’t go to the bar or restaurant area, it’s kind of a strange rule.

“Really, it’s just nice having bowling again. Hopefully, Cuomo keeps the state open and we can keep that economic engine rolling.”

Jen Lawson, who owns Lakeview Lanes with Mike Clark, said their business has taken a different approach than Bowlwinkles did to the shutdown.

Like Bowlwinkles, Lawson said they have been able to stay afloat so far due to their bar and food service, but they were going to wait to deal with reopening the bowling part until state guidelines were released.

“We kind of did things in the opposite way than Sonja,” Lawson said. “The food end has been pretty successful for us, and on the bowling side, we didn’t want to spend time and money making changes until we see the list of guidelines. It’s been wait and see. Once we have those guidelines, we’ll know where we stand and how to proceed forward.”

Lawson said unlike Bowlwinkles, bowling in Tupper Lake is not a huge draw during the summer time.

“We’re not mobbed over here, and we don’t have air conditioning, so there’s not a lot of summer bowling in Tupper Lake.” she said. “We really don’t start getting busy until after Labor Day when leagues get going, and the leagues are our greatest concern

“This a huge win for bowling in New York knowing we can begin to reopen Monday,” Lawson added.

Romano’s Saranac Lanes owners Jeff and Cathy Romano expect their eight-lane bowling alley in Saranac Lake to be open in some manner in about two or three weeks, just in time to get leagues up and running. Both were thrilled to hear the news Friday but admitted they have a lot of work ahead during the coming days.

“I’m so ecstatic that we can open again, but now we have to be clean and safe for the public,” Jeff Romano said. “I’m not so much thankful for us, but this is great news for Tupper Lake, Lake Placid, Malone. We’re thrilled for the small establishments and the big ones.

“The big thing now is the safety our staff and people coming in,” Jeff Romano added. “We want our workers to be confident knowing they are safe and they are not going to get sick.”

The last day Romano’s was open was back on March 16, and Jeff Romano said their alley normally employs between 11 and 15 full- and part-time workers. During the shutdown, some renovations have been done, but most of the work has been painting, he said.

In terms of moving forward, Jeff Romano said the first step will be a staff meeting, and there will also be a lot of cleaning going on.

“There’s so much work. Cleaning gutters, caps, the walls, everything. We have to make sure the lighting is working properly, we’re working on the heating system. We’ve been closed for so long and now it’s the big push to the finish line. We’re going to proceed with the leagues first and see what we can do with open bowling.”

In addition to the bar, restaurant and lanes, Romano’s is also home to a Capital Region Off Track Betting outlet, which they plan on reopening as well.

If there are any questions regarding leagues forming or reopening at Romano’s, people can call (518) 891-8301 or (718) 744-7970.