Bowling alleys, other indoor entertainment remain locked down in lower part of Michigan

Desperation and confusion have reached fever pitch among some Michigan business owners yet to receive the governor’s blessing to reopen.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement Thursday to let youth sports resume and gyms and indoor pools reopen next week brought relief to schools and small businesses through southern Michigan, where restrictions on these activities have remained tight amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of those left out of Thursday’s executive orders feel helpless.

“I think everyone is just beyond frustration,” said Corey Jacobsen, owner of Phoenix Theatres, which has locations in Livonia, Wayne and Monroe. “I think there is just a sense of utter despair and a total lack of understanding of how these decisions are being made. … (Whitmer) has seen our science. We’d like to see hers. What are you looking at to make these determinations?”

Even those who appeared to be getting some reprieve are not so sure. Bowling alleys, for instance, are allowed to reopen only for “organized sports.”

“I don’t think (the announcement) had anything to do with our industry, to be honest,” said Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bowling alleys and small bars throughout the state. “I mean, you have bowling alleys open, but it seems to be — and there’s still some clarity that we’re trying to figure out — it seems to be only for events organized by associations or institutions.”

The businesses listed in the governor’s order that still do not have reopening dates include movie theaters, amusement parks, arcades, bingo halls, indoor climbing facilities, indoor dance areas, water parks and carnival rides.

Besides gyms and indoor pools, the executive orders issued by Whitmer focus on organized, sanctioned sports and seem to open venues to just host those sports. The governor’s office confirmed that Friday.

“Bowling alleys, roller rinks and ice rinks may open for the sole purpose of serving as a venue for organized sports,” the governor’s press secretary Tiffany Brown said in a text message to Crain’s.

“We’re trying to understand all the ambiguity in the order,” said Michael MacColeman, the 71-year-old owner of Spare Time Entertainment Center in Lansing. “It opened a door. It’s more than what we had, let’s put it that way.”

MacColeman said he was of the opinion that the order allows recreational leagues to resume, which would help him only slightly anyway. He said league play has declined dramatically over the years and now makes up just 3 percent or 4 percent of his revenue. Regardless, he plans to restart bowling Wednesday.

Spare Time has been open 60 years, and MacColeman, who bought it in 2012, has no interest in letting it go to the gutter on his watch. Besides 31 lanes of bowling, the business offers eight lanes of axe throwing, four escape rooms, three outdoor volleyball courts as well as an arcade and private events space. Almost all of it will remain closed indefinitely.

MacColeman said revenue this year is down 60 percent, or $1.5 million. He said he has invested more than $35,000 on Biomist disinfectant spray for bowling balls and shoes. The venue also installed 6-foot-tall clear shower curtains between tables at every lane.

“As one of our league secretaries said, it kind of reminds me of an ICU unit, but you know, you can at least see activity,” he said.

Brian Siegel, who owns Joe Dumars Fieldhouse in Detroit, Detroit Axe in Ferndale and the new locations planned in Corktown in Detroit and The Mall at Partridge Creek in Clinton Township, said he hopes the governor allows his businesses to open soon. Until then, the lost revenue, estimated at $5 million, will continue to grow.

“We respect the governor’s goals to protect people, but we don’t know why we’re the last man standing,” Siegel said.

It’s a question that Emagine Entertainment Inc. Chairman Paul Glantz has wrestled with for months. Glantz has publicly criticized the governor for keeping theaters closed, and even filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the administration. On Thursday, he took a different approach in responding to the new order.

“We understand the governor is continuing to evaluate reopening movie theaters and we are grateful for her consideration and we remain optimistic that it will be sometime soon,” he said in a text message.

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