New York State bowling center proprietors are going on the offensive in an effort to convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow their businesses to reopen.
Rebuffed in their attempts to be part of the state’s Phase Three reopening plan, proprietors are becoming increasingly frustrated and worried after not being able to resume operations when Phase Four went into effect on June 26.
With backing from the Bowling Proprietors Association of America and the New York State Bowling Proprietors Association, bowling center owners have reached out to state lawmakers, hoping to impress upon them – and ultimately, the governor -- that with proper social distancing and disinfecting protocols in place, bowling can resume in a safe environment.
Local Assemblyman Stephen Hawley and Long Island Assemblyman Joseph DeStefano as well as Senator Daphne Jordan, who represents an area including Saratoga Springs, have written letters to the Cuomo on behalf of the bowling industry.
Hawley’s letter in June, pushing for a Phase Three opening, was signed by 17 other state legislators.
DeStefano hosted a press conference via Zoom videoconferencing last week and another at noon today that was broadcast on Facebook Live today from Coram Country Lanes in Suffolk County.
Today’s event attracted bowling proprietors and bowlers from across the state.
'We're Ready, Willing and Able'
“We know that bowling centers are supposed to be within Phase Four. We’re in Phase Four but yet the bowling community has not been advised as to what to do about reopening,” DeStefano said. “We’re here today to show everybody that the bowling community is ready, willing and able to do the things necessary to reopen.”
DeStefano said bowling centers “are not looking for a handout, we’re not looking for something for nothing … we want to do what is right for our communities. This is something that both sides agree on and the only person who hasn’t been listening is the governor.”
Nassau County Assemblyman John Mikulin said that bowling proprietors, like other business owners, want everyone to be safe.
“Bowling centers have a plan and can implement that plan and maintain social distancing,” he said. “Bowling contributes much to our communities.”
Approximately 300 bowling centers in New York employee around 8,700 people.
“Those are 8,700 people that are no longer working since March,” DeStefano said. “We need to get these people back to work and off the unemployment rolls.”
Looking for Clear Direction
Robert Martinez, representing Tom Muratore, Suffolk County legislator, said “if the pandemic does not hurt us, keeping our businesses closed and keeping people sitting home and waiting to work will certainly destroy us.”
DeStefano echoed the proprietors’ disappointment over the lack of direction from Albany.
“There are plenty of things that we have done so far to try and get these centers open again,” he said. “Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we’ve reached out to the Department of Health, we’ve reached out to the governor’s office, we’ve had a Zoom conference with the governor’s office and today we still haven’t heard … any guidance.”
Joe LaSpina, proprietor of Maple Family Centers on Long Island (and a center in Florida that has reopened), displayed his company’s 30-page reopening document that underscores customer safety, employee safety and exceeding the Center for Disease Control guidelines.
“We’re ready to embrace testing and social distancing. A pair of lanes is 11 ½ feet wide; that’s ample space for social distancing,” he said. “Our bowlers are aching to come back.”
At the Mercy of the Governor
Anthony Palumbo, another Long Island assemblyman, questioned Cuomo’s motivation in not responding to the proprietors.
“It’s almost if the governor is relishing in the fact that he can arbitrarily decide what is going to open and what isn’t going to open,” he said. “We’re all adults; we can do this safely and smartly. These small businesses will never reopen unless they allow us some leeway to do it smartly and safely.”
Chris Keller, owner of The All Star, a bowling center in Riverhead, said that since the shutdown, proprietors have focused on developing a plan for “clean, responsible and safe reopening when it was time.”
“Well, it is time. It’s time for the governor to trust in us; it’s time to let us open our doors again; it’s time to rehire our 8,700 employees; it’s time to enjoy our wonderful sport again,” he said.
John LaSpina, Joe’s father and longtime industry leader, pointed out that 40 years ago, bowling proprietors joined forces with the NYS Insurance Fund to create a safety group for all member centers.
“Through all of those years we have made significant strides in workplace safety, we have benefited by our collective exchange, reaped the benefits of discounted premiums and annual rebates based on our own safe performance. As you can see, safety is nothing new to us,” he said.
Bowling Supports Youth, Veterans
He also talked about the USBC’s commitment to youth bowling, noting that $80 million is being held in SMART accounts as scholarships earned by boys and girls across the nation. And that bowling has raised more than $50 million for veterans through the Bowlers to Veterans Link since the fund’s inception in 1942.
John LaSpina brought up that bowlers in the Downstate area are traveling to New Jersey and Connecticut to bowl.
“So, we wave and wish them luck on the lanes and remind them of all those tolls,” he said.
What he really would love, he said, is to have a “private conversation” with the governor.
“I would tell him that I was glued to the TV for almost every one of his briefings and that I salute him for making hard decisions, which is what leadership is all about,” he said. “Give us clear guidance of your expectations and we will deliver. We will enforce social distancing, lower occupancy and follow all sanitation protocols.
“We are ready, we are smart, we are safe … it’s time for you to open our doors and let us show you what we can do.”