It's Time to Get the Ball Rolling Again
By Bo Goergen
As a local business owner and a citizen of Michigan, I applaud Governor Whitmer for making difficult decisions and taking appropriate action in the fight against COVID-19. I believe these decisions have saved lives. I also cannot thank enough the thousands of front-line workers, who, despite considerable risk, selflessly continue to do their jobs for our benefit.
That being said, our economy is facing great hardship. Local businesses across industries must now re-emerge in a safe, sustainable way, while keeping a close eye on important health benchmarks, including hospital capacity and positive testing rates. While I completely understand that the top priority remains health and safety, it is time to put our state back to work by reopening more non-essential businesses, including the 300+ bowling centers across Michigan.
Each year, nearly 70 million people bowl in the United States. It is consistently one of the most popular sports and leisure activities in the country for people of all ages. Many bowling establishments in our state are family owned businesses. In towns and cities everywhere, these bowling centers have served as a focal point of the community for generations of families and league bowlers. Like so many other local businesses, they have been shuttered for nearly three months and need to know, for their very survival, that they’ll be able to reopen very soon.
Throughout 33 years of ownership at Northern Lanes in Sanford, our business has provided jobs to many residents, including frequent first jobs for high school students. In addition, we have provided affordable recreation to many individuals, families and people with both physical and emotional challenges. This last month has been devastating for everyone in the Sanford and Midland areas. First, Covid-19 with the shutdowns and then the 500-year flood. We need to get life back to almost normal as quickly as possible. In addition to owning Sanford Lanes, I am the Executive Director of the Michigan State Bowling Proprietors Association of Michigan representing a significant number of the 300+ bowling centers in the state. Many bowling centers are suffering hardship and many may close their doors permanently if business doesn’t open soon.
I understand why some people may have reservations about returning to bowling at this time. Bowling is a very tactile experience where equipment and shoes are frequently shared, and a lot of celebratory high-fives are exchanged. Many centers have video game lounges and restaurants where customers congregate. It is important to note, however, that as an industry, bowling has always made cleanliness a top priority given the volume of traffic and shared nature of our equipment, but safety and sanitation efforts have intensified to new levels during this time. Centers are personally applying deep and thorough health and disinfection practices. We are closely monitoring government policy changes, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, government directives and public health advancements, and guidance from our trade association, the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America (BPAA). Relying on the best available sanitization methods from infectious disease experts at the federal and state levels, our centers continue to refine and update their respective plans accordingly. And, we are constantly talking to bowling centers in areas of the country that have reopened or are ready to do so in order to learn and apply their best practices to centers waiting to reopen. Many bowling centers, in states where they have been allowed to reopen, have already begun welcoming guests back into bowl, but have only done so after thoroughly enhancing health and safety policies. The BPAA has worked tirelessly over the past several months guiding its 3,400 member centers nationwide through the process with resources, counsel and shared best practices on how to fully prepare for and keep their facilities safe and fun for bowlers and employees upon their re-opening.
Unlike many other public businesses deemed non-essential, bowling centers are large facilities, often encompassing 30,000 – 40,000 square feet of space. We are well positioned to institute social distancing practices, such as situating our guests on every other lane (one lane alone is about 1,000 square feet). Additionally, centers are personally applying deep and thorough health, safety and disinfection practices that include:
> Sanitizing every ball after use > Thoroughly cleaning every set of shoes after use > Providing hand sanitizers for all customers > Handling all transactions with as minimal contacts as possible > Providing PPE (masks and gloves) for all staff on site (where required) Regular cleaning/sanitization of all gaming and high contact surfaces throughout business hours > Screening workers for illness
Now is the time to reopen the local economy as safely as possible, for essential and nonessential businesses like bowling and other industries that are taking the necessary steps to safeguard the health and well-being of their customers and employees. We are prepared to begin with reduced occupancy, physical distancing measures in place, face mask requirements and stringent sanitization protocols. Through daily monitoring of data from the state, we can evaluate the health benchmarks. If need be, we can marginally pull back or move forward.
To our thousands of loyal customers, the bowling center operators of Michigan are ready to roll when you are.
(Bo Goergen is the MICHIGAN STATE Executive Director for the Bowling Proprietors Association of America. He/she is also the owner of Northern Lanes in Sanford).