Bill Smith told his co-workers a few weeks ago that another shutdown was coming, it was only a matter of when it would be.
The owner of Hillcrest Lanes bowling alley in Belding, who took ownership of the business with his fiancé, Kim Krouse, last November, saw the rising COVID-19 cases and deaths and was doing his best to brace for the bad news. Still, when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) ordered the shutdown on Sunday, effective Wednesday, it didn’t make it any easier to swallow for Smith.
“No, I wasn’t really surprised. We’ve done well here though, we haven’t had any outbreaks,” Smith said. “People here were following protocol, so that was good. People were wearing their masks and doing the right thing so we were happy about that.”
Lyle Jaworski, the owner of Lakeview Alley Cat Bar & Grill since Dec. 2019, doesn’t see the benefit of the shutdown, saying he doesn’t think it’s going to change things, and expressed frustration of the targeting of small businesses by the MDHHS.
“Can somebody explain to me why a bowling alley is different than a grocery store where we’re sending everyone to?” Jaworski questioned. “Why are we different than a Sam’s? Why are we different than a Walmart? Why are we looking at the bowling alleys, the restaurants and the small businesses to crush when we can do all of these other things at a grocery store? The same people need the same food. This does not make common sense.
“That’s my take on it. I do not understand it,” he continued. “I don’t understand how shutting bowling alleys down and leaving grocery stores open and many other things that are open for people to go to but now we’re attacking bowling alleys, sport centers and all of these other places as if they’re the bad guys. It has nothing to do with any of us. It’s a virus and we’re going to have to live through it.”
Both bowling alleys said they will keep their bowling leagues on a three-week pause for now with no plans to outright cancel any leagues. Smith, however, feels that the pause may last longer than the three weeks.
Lakeview Alley Cat Bar & Grill owner Lyle Jaworski hopes that he and other small business owners receive support from the Lakeview community to keep their employees paid throughout the holiday season. “It’s so crucial right now, this is more crucial than the original shutdown because, during the original shutdown, they ended up providing us some government money so that we could pay our employees to keep them on and keep their lifestyle going,” Jaworski said. “Now, there’s very little unemployment, there’s not enough to exist on and they can’t go to work.” — DN file photo
“We’re not going to cancel any leagues at this point. We’re taking the three-week pause but I don’t think anybody believes that it’s only going to be for three weeks. There’s no way they’re going to get it under control in three weeks,” Smith said. “Realistically, I don’t think we’ll be open again until the first of the year.”
Jaworski noted that he would leave it up to those who run the leagues to decide on their schedule upon return.
Since re-opening on Sept. 14, Smith said Hillcrest Lanes has been well supported by the Belding community.
“We were about a week later than our normal fall opening for leagues,” Smith said. “Open bowling was just OK. September and October, when the weather is still nice, people would rather do bonfires or that kind of thing on the Saturday nights when we have open bowling. But it’s started to pick up the last couple weekends when it’s been a little colder, we’ve had a lot more open bowling. This past Sunday was our best Sunday ever.”
Smith noted that the timing of the shutdown couldn’t have been much poorer, however, as Hillcrest Lanes and bowling alleys around the area are entering their busy season.
“This is our busiest time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I think any bowling center will tell you that’s their busiest time, that’s when their profits really start showing for the year,” he said.
While the Lakeview Alley Cat is going to carryout food only for the entire closure period, Smith said that’s something they’re going to try as an experiment at Hillcrest Lanes.
The bowling leagues at the Lakeview Alley Cat will go on a pause while the shutdown is in effect, with Jaworski saying he’ll allow the league managers to adjust their schedules as desired once the lanes are open again. — DN file photo
“We’re kind of talking about that, we’re going to kind of see how it goes,” he said. “We may do some carryout food, see how that goes for a week. We have to do something, we still have bills to pay, obviously. There’s no stimulus package in place, which I don’t understand how they can shut you down without having something in place. It’s a struggle, everyone is going to feel it, there’s no doubt.”
While the Lakeview community and surrounding area have stepped up in a big way for the Lakeview Alley Cat, Jaworski is imploring his community to help keep their small local businesses afloat during this tough time.
“I just urge all people to look at all the small businesses that really need their help right now that are being limited by things not in their power,” he said. “Because it’s not just about the small business, it’s about all the people we employ, from the cooks to the waitstaff to the person doing the garbage to the person doing dishes. When we go to (carryout only), we don’t have any hours for those people and we don’t have the funds to pay those people.
“It’s so crucial right now. This is more crucial than the original shutdown because, during the original shutdown, they ended up providing us some government money so that we could pay our employees to keep them on and keep their lifestyle going,” Jaworski added. “Now, there’s very little unemployment, there’s not enough to exist on and they can’t go to work. This is huge, this is devastating to a lot of people, not just the businesses. So I just ask that people look at that and try to patronize not just my business but all of the small businesses.”