For bowling center operators, much of 2020 has been a turkey — and that’s not a good thing.
Patient bowlers and bowling alleys finally received the word they had been waiting for from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced Friday that bowling centers could reopen Monday with strict safety protocols in place.
Mr. Cuomo said he was happy to make that announcement since bowling alleys could provide “a level of fun and recreation at a time when New Yorkers really need it.”
Reopening day had been eagerly awaited by bowling alley owners like Chris Keller of The All Star in Riverhead.
“Yesterday was an unbelievably special day,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview. “We called it New York Bowling Day.”
The All Star reopened almost five months to the day — 151 days, to be precise — since it closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.
Although bowling alleys reopened, they must adhere to state-imposed restrictions: operate at a 50% maximum occupancy limit; face coverings and social distancing are required at all times; every other lane must be closed; patrons need to stay with their party at their assigned lane; thorough cleaning and disinfection of shared or rented equipment between each use is required; and all food service must follow all state-issued guidance.
The All Star was well-positioned for the restart. Mr. Keller said over $20,000 had been spent during the shutdown for safety measures. Among them, temperature stations have been installed at the entrance, five-foot tall dividers stand between each pair of lanes and a UV light-sanitizing station is used for house bowling balls and rental shoes.
Mr. Keller said 50% capacity for his place amounts to about 150 people. Fourteen of the 28 lanes at the 40,000-square-foot facility are used, with no more than six people per lane. Bowlers must book reservations on The All Star website.
“It went great,” Mr. Keller said of Day One in the brave new bowling world. “It went really well. I was pleasantly surprised. Actually, we were busier than I expected.”
Among those eager to return to bowling were Ken Poliwoda and his wife, Barbara. The Southold couple are league bowlers.
“It brings back memories of what life used to be like — five months ago,” Mr. Poliwoda said. “The freedom to go in and bowl again.”
Mr. Poliwoda, who has a 200-plus average, rolled back-to-back 181s before a 169 in practice Monday. Noting that his timing was off, he said it was still “just like good old times, laughing and having fun.”
Mr. Keller said he had a “We’re Open” sign ready to go up for the past two months.
“With the criteria and anything we were given, it was welcome, it was fine,” he said. “We just wanted an opportunity to open our doors and prove to the customers and to the state that we could do the job, we could provide family entertainment safe and responsibly … It was nice to see people respond by coming back and supporting us.”
In a typical year, Mr. Keller noted, a bowling center closes for only three days: Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter Sunday. Now, following this extended hibernation, The All Star is open again.
“I just hope everybody realizes we’re open and I hope they come and check us out,” Mr. Keller said. “I welcome them with open arms.”