Bowling center owners ecstatic as Governor shifts phased reopening

They’re finally out of the gutter as bowling alleys across the state have been thrown a lifeline which just might mean many locally owned businesses survive the devastating economic downturn.

On Thursday Governor Jay Inslee changed his tune and is allowing bowling alleys to reopen in Phase 2 instead of Phase 4.

Chances are the bowling alley near you is family-owned and many of those businesses were likely on the brink of shutting down permanently.

“I’m in another league and it’s called the Gutterball Express,” said bowler Lynn Andrews as she tried her hand at bowling for the first time since February.

“The more you bowl the better you get,” she said. “Well, theoretically.”

It’s not just her score that’s been suffering, bowling alleys like Kenmore Lanes were told customers would have to wait until Phase 4 until Inslee changed his tune.

“It feels terrific,” said Kenmore Lanes owner Joann Evans. “That’s probably an understatement.”

Evans’ family has been operating the facility for decades but keeping the business afloat on food alone has been tough.

New guidance from the state allows bowlers to return to the game but only for league play. Only 2 bowlers are allowed per lane. Strict cleaning measures are among a slew of requirements for business owners, plus bowlers must wear masks. If that’s what it takes to save Evans’ business, she’s game.

“We’ve put years and years into this business,” she said.

The Washington State Bowling Proprietors' Association says bowling alleys have lost $120 million through the shutdown state-wide but the new guidance could allow a come-back.

“Gosh darn it, bowling’s back and we’re ready to roll,” exclaimed the association’s executive director Greg Olsen.

“I believe all the bowling centers were right on the brink,” said Steve Turner.

The bowling businesses has always been a family endeavor for Turner. He’s worked in the industry for decades most recently side-by-side with his wife, including his brother and his wife as well.

But the stress of a pandemic paired with multiple health issues among family members Turner decided to close the Fairway Lanes in Centralia and he plans to sell. 

Glacier Lanes in Everett also closed due to similar issues but without the change in phased reopening, Turner says other operators were nearing a point of no return.

“They needed to open, they needed their bowlers back,” he said.

“I can’t wait to see the bowlers come back through the door,” said Evans.

Evans says she is more than ready for her customers to return and reconnect even if they have to stay 6-feet apart.

Our new reality is anything but a perfect but it’s a chance for an industry and community to be spared from the gutter.

“Since we’ve been closed it’s been kind of sad seeing there’s no joy and laughter and fun going on,” said Andrews.