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Awaiting word from the governor, Riverhead bowling alley says it’s ready to reopen

Having done so much to his bowling center, Chris Keller is awaiting one final thing before he can reopen: the green light from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Mr. Keller, owner of The All Star in Riverhead, and other bowling center proprietors are eagerly pushing for the OK from Albany to reopen and awaken from their COVID-19-induced hibernation. They had expected to be included in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan earlier this month, but that wasn’t the case.

“This is a dire situation for most bowling centers across the state,” Mr. Keller said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “Most of us are mom and pops. We’re individually owned centers. I know if this continues, many of us are going to shut down.”

Mr. Keller said bowling center owners such as himself have held press conferences, collected signatures for petitions and had a plane fly over South Shore beaches from Long Beach to Montauk Sunday with a message for Mr. Cuomo, “Governor, reopen bowling.” A banner in front of The All Star bore similar wording, said Mr. Keller.

The All Star, in its ninth year of operation, closed March 16 due to the pandemic. When it will open again for bowling is anyone’s guess.

An email to Mr. Cuomo’s spokesman, Jason Conwall, seeking comment was not returned by early Wednesday morning.

“We have no guidance,” Mr. Keller said. “We just know we’re doing everything we can to try to get his attention and to try to get him to mention the plan for bowling centers in one of his press conferences. It’s just not happening.”

As part of his own reopening preparation, Mr. Keller said he has instituted extensive safety measures at The All Star. A video that he said has drawn some 20,000 views between Facebook and Instagram details what those compliance efforts look like:

Temperature stations have been installed at the entrance to the bowling center and Smitty’s, the on-site restaurant, for employees and customers, who would be required to have their temperatures taken. After being checked and allowed through, they would put on their masks and proceed inside where they would see safety reminder signs around the center and TV monitors encouraging social distancing. Floor decals throughout the 40,000-square-foot building indicate where people should stand to maintain a six-foot separation from others. Sanitation stations are set up around the building. Plexiglas guards were put up at the front desk to minimize contact between customers and employees. Five-foot tall dividers were erected between each pair of lanes to minimize interaction between groups. A UVC light sanitizing station is set up behind the front desk where bowling shoes and bowling balls are kept. In the restaurant, tables are distanced six feet apart and diners are able to use scan codes at each table so they can access the menu by their cellphones.

In addition, Mr. Keller said he has updated the air-conditioning filters, placed NanoSeptic skins on door handles and uses an electrostatic fogger to resanitize the facility at night.

“I know for sure I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars … and this is with not one dollar coming in and we’ve lost hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue,” he said. “My business was a very successful, thriving, growing business and COVID-19 just basically took away all of that.”

The All Star, which has 35 employees, is home to about six leagues as well as a place for open bowlers, Mr. Keller said. Three high school teams bowl at the facility — Riverhead, Southold and East Hampton.

Smitty’s opened for outdoor dining in mid-June and then indoor dining July 8.

Mr. Keller said he is sensitive to the seriousness of the coronavirus threat, given what his parents went through as residents of a Commack nursing home. He said his father died from the disease April 20 and his mother almost died.

“We just want some guidance on what they’re thinking,” Mr. Keller said of state officials.

Mr. Keller, a former pro bowler and member of the Long Island Bowling Hall of Fame (class of 2010), was asked how much longer his business can operate like this.

“Whew! It’s hard to say,” he said. “I mean, I can’t even think about it. That’s how scary it is.”