The past year has been like a roller coaster for Donn Allen. And he’d like to get off.
Last fall, Allen and his wife Rachel, owners of Allen’s Crosley Lanes bowling center, decided to sell their property to a developer and retire.
But a city moratorium on new developments in the neighborhood ended those plans.
“We reversed course and said ‘you know, we’re going to reinvest in the facility,’ ” Allen said.
Allen was approved for a loan that would pay for improvements like new pinsetters, scoring system and flooring. “A host of amenities that would transform the center,” he said.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, closing Crosley Lanes and other bowling centers across that state in March. Most have not been allowed to reopen since, and Allen’s lender won’t close on the loan until the center is able to reopen.
“I don’t blame them,” Allen said. “It’s a $1 million project, and they want to make sure we have a future. And right now, that future is in doubt with the governor’s proclamation when it comes to bowling centers.”
Bowling centers were among the businesses that would be allowed to open in Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan. In late June, that appeared to be days away in Clark County.
But as the number of new cases in the state spiked last month, Inslee paused the reopening process indefinitely, leaving bowling centers in limbo.
So on Saturday, Crosley Lanes joined a statewide initiative — Rally for the Alley — to raise awareness to the plight of bowling centers. About 30 people turned out to hold up signs and wave at passing cars along Evergreen Boulevard, seeking support to reopen bowling.
“We’re small, but we’re vocal,” Allen said.
Bowling center owners like Allen and Dennis and Robin Bailey, who own and operate Tiger Bowl in Battle Ground, believe they have done their part, from installing plexiglass at all point-of-sale locations, putting in sanitizing stations and creating social distancing protocols throughout their facilities.
“We even have disposable rental shoes, kind of like what doctors and nurses use, the booties that slip over your normal shoes,” Allen said. “We knew there were going to be a lot of people worried about putting their feet in shoes that someone else was just wearing, even though we’ve been sanitizing shoes for decades.”
Dennis Bailey said his customers are ready to do their part, too.
“Our bowlers that we’ve talked to, they know they are going to be masked up the whole time when we open back up,” Dennis Bailey said. “Whatever it takes, they’re OK with it, if it means they get to bowl again.”
Allen is frustrated because he believes bowling centers have done a better job of installing social distancing protocols than many stores and restaurants that have been allowed to reopen.
“So we just don’t understand why we’ve been put into COVID purgatory,” Allen said.
Allen and the Baileys said they are both managing the lockdown financially, for now.
“We’re doing good,” Robin Bailey said. “We’re going to open back up, when they let us. We’re in a better position than a lot of people. We’re just waiting, non-patiently. … We’ve never gone so long without bowling. It’s part of our family. It’s what we do. Our bowlers feel like part of our family. It’s tough not seeing them.”
“I met her at a bowling alley,” Dennis Bailey said of his wife. “It’s who we are. Without bowling, we’re kind of lost.”
Allen said the Washington State Bowling Proprietors Association has determined that if bowling centers are not allowed to open by the end of 2020, 90 percent of them in the state will fail.
“If we can’t get open, and there’s no more federal money coming our way, the first of the year we’ve got a very tough decision to make,” Allen said. “Because I’ve got to protect my family first and foremost.”
Allen hopes Saturday’s event helps raise awareness.
“The most important thing people can do for us is go to the website bringbackbowling.com,” he said. “There is a letter on there to Governor Inslee pleading our case. And all you have to do is put your name on there and your email address and hit send. … We want bowlers to flood the governor’s office with emails to let him know they want to start bowling again.”
Dennis Bailey added: “We just want a chance to open up and show that we can keep everyone safe. A lot of our bowlers are in the high-risk group, and we don’t want them to get sick. We don’t want our employees to get sick, our family. We don’t want to open up, have people get sick and shut back down again. But we believe we can open and keep people safe, and we just want that chance to demonstrate that.”