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Bowling Centers in Distress: Newsom Keeps Bowlers Off the Lanes

JASON AND JODI ALTMAN standing in the Gage Bowling Center. The Center has been a thriving business for 60 years, but may be forced to close their doors because they have not been allowed to reopen.

 

BY TAMMYE MCDUFF • October 30, 2020

According to covid19.ca.gov California has a blueprint for a safer economy in the state with revised criteria for loosening and tightening restrictions on activities. As most are aware every county in California is assigned to a tier based on its rate of new cases and positivity.

However according to Kelly Garman, Vice President of Stutzman Public Affairs, there is a great inconsistency in Governor Newsom’s blueprint for reopening California, and there might not be a more outrageous example of this inconsistency than the fact that bowling centers cannot open in the Red tier when even riskier indoor businesses like indoor dining, movie theaters, nail salons and houses of worship may resume limited operations.

“Bowling centers are large spaces where social distancing is easily achievable by employing many actions such as spreading out between bowling lanes, installing protective screens, and implementing diligent sanitization,” Garman told HMG-CN, “face masks do not inhibit the activity, of positive and safe interaction among participants.”

The inequity of not treating bowling consistently with comparable indoor activities shuts out active seniors, special needs community and many local student-athletes. Bowling centers in Southern California have developed a COVID-19 Readiness Report and want to continue their positive partnership with their local communities by reopening safely.

Garman wasn’t over exaggerating when she stated there is urgency among centers to get re-opened and provide a safe CDC guideline environment before they go out of business for good.

There are roughly 120 bowling centers in Southern California, and not more than 250 or so in the entire state. HMG-CN was able to speak with Jodi and Jason Altman, owners of the Gage Bowling Center in Huntington Park.

“This center has been in operation for over 60 years,” said Jodi, “we purchased the place a few years back and created a steady flow of customers on a continual basis. We were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Bowling alleys were allowed to reopen in June for 14 days but were shut down again. Gage also has a bar, restaurant and gaming room. “Back in June when restaurants could open at 25 percent, we considered opening the restaurant and bar. Because our building is so large and we have such a sizeable capacity, but those spaces would have been packed.” Jason told HMG-CN. They decided to limit the number of people that could come in, allowing just their dedicated bowlers, but within a few days, the Governor shut them down again.

Not only are the Altman’s shelling out thousands of dollars for the buildings rent, and utilities, their last electricity bill was over $4,000, they still have to come in several times a week to keep the machines running, the wood oiled, and the bowling bowls cool or they will split in half and all the machines and gadgetry in working order. They are paying somewhere around $40,000 monthly for an empty building.

Gage Bowling Center employs 31 people, some of have been there for over 20 years. “Our employees want to come back; they call us almost every day. But there comes a time when you have to encourage them to look for other sources of income,” Jodi noted,” they have families and responsibilities as well. I don’t know how many of our employees we will be able to get back.”

Bowling Centers already have strict guidelines that they normally must adhere to, such as cleaning shoes, bowls, eating areas and lanes, “We could easily open up and allow some of committed customers to come in and safely return to their sport of choice,” Jason said. “You know, if we could just close our doors, and not worry about machines breaking down, that might be okay. But because of the business we are in, we have multiple licenses to pay, liquor license, food license, gaming license for the video games, we even pay for a karaoke license. And if we don’t pay them we lose them,” he added, “we have been told by the city that we could choose not to renew them, but there is no guarantee that we could get them back.”

The Altman’s had a desire for the California dream, coming from New Jersey, “I used to have a love affair with California, but not anymore,” sighed Jodi, “I just don’t know how much longer we can continue to do this.” Jason told HMG-CN that in the past seven months they have lost over two million dollars in revenue.