The thunderous sound of bowling balls meeting pins was halted three months earlier than usual at the Wadena Lanes and Pro Shop, courtesy of Gov. Tim Walz’ March 16 executive order, which called for the temporary closure of restaurants, bars and places of public accommodation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With six to eight weeks of league bowling still undone, and open bowling regularly scheduled through the end of June, the closure meant several months without revenue. Those are the months that help the bowling alley through the couple months they are closed each summer as they have done for over 20 years, according to part owner and main operator Mike Almer.
“It's kind of bad timing because we close for two months and those last few months we try to save money for the closure," Almer said.
In those months, Almer said there were just so many unknowns. When will they be able to open? What kind of protocols do they have to follow? When the bowling alley was able to reopen at 25% capacity in June, Mike was unsure what 25% looked like in his operation. He understands that social distancing guidelines will need to be in effect but is unsure how things will look when the business is expected to reopen in early August.
The bowling alley will reopen about a month earlier in order to start league and open bowling to try to recoup some of what was lost. It seems business unknowns remain as restrictions could be placed at any time.
Almer said the thought of losing the business crossed his mind.
“That always crosses your mind,” he said. The bowling alley is on solid footing, he adds. Wadena Lanes and Pro Shop was helped by the City of Wadena’s COVID-19 Emergency Loan program that offered funds at 0% interest to those businesses that did not qualify for other emergency loan programs. Almer said that certainly helped with the bills that keep coming when the revenue has halted.
The bowling alley is able to operate with minimal staffing. Most employees are part-time, so the loss of work did not disrupt a large number of employees.
Mike Almer owns the Wadena bowling alley with his siblings. They also own Jack's House, a bowling alley on Hwy 25 in Brainerd. That business was named after their late father Jack Almer.
Aside from lost revenue, the loss of bowling for what will be about five months is felt by those that come to enjoy bowling every week. It was a loss of recreation and social gathering that league members probably felt the most.
“I think some people are going through withdrawals,” Almer said.
Just how this disease will change the way people meet and gather at the bowling alley is unknown for the time. Almer said as long as there are health and safety guidelines to follow, it will look a little different.
“We’ll adapt to whatever we have to do,” Mike said.
While Wadena Lanes and Pro Shop has been keeping pins on the lanes and bowling balls returning to the sender since the 1980s, staff are hopeful the pandemic and all of that comes with it will soon roll away and not make a return.