On March 17, Nelson Moody, owner of Yankee Lanes bowling alley in Brunswick, closed his doors and the business has now been shut down for more than two months. Yankee Lanes was started in 1961 and was purchased by Moody in 2013. He says he believes this is the longest period of time that the establishment has been closed in its nearly 60-year history.
After closing, the next action Moody was forced to take was laying off most of his workforce. Without regular paying customers, Moody could not afford to keep everyone on board, especially without knowing the duration of Yankee Lane’s closure.
After applying for and receiving funding under the Paycheck Protection Program, he was able to bring back most of his 15 employees, though a few found other “essential” jobs after being laid off and two refused to return to work.
With his doors closed, Moody says he is beginning to wonder if he’ll ever be allowed to reopen. Bowling alleys are not listed in any of the stages of Governor Janet Mills’ reopening plans, and Moody says he’s reached out to the Mills administration – including the governor and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson – for guidance, yet has received none.
“There’s no timeline available on when I can reopen,” Moody said. “I sent them emails and the response I kept getting was that the administration is working on it, keep checking the website and look for answers there. Well, there are none.”
Since Yankee Lanes closed in mid-March, Moody has used the closure as an opportunity to update and renovate the business. He says he has repaired or replaced bumpers in many lanes, stripped the floors and cleaned seating areas, reupholstered furniture, changed fixtures in the bathrooms and completed a lot of painting. Unfortunately, customers aren’t allowed inside to see the renovations.
Despite the absence of guidance from the state, Moody has developed his own plan to reopen Yankee Lanes based on safety measures he thinks are necessary and would be willing to implement if allowed to reopen.
To safely reopen, Moody says he would limit groups to six people and would only allow bowlers to use every other lane in the establishment. A greeter at the door would record the name and contact information of one member of each party for contract tracing purposes, and this individual would be equipped with a non-contact thermometer to take everyone’s temperature as they come through the door.
He said customers would be asked to wear a facemask until they’re seated in their lane, and to put the mask back on to go to the bathroom or order food from the snack bar. The snack bar and other public-facing points of the business have been fitted with plexiglass shields to protect against the spread of COVID-19 among staff and customers. Moody says he’s already come up with a system to sanitize all of the bowling balls regularly and also has new bowling balls for sale if customers are uncomfortable using Yankee Lane’s existing balls.
Moody is comfortable these actions are enough to safely reopen his business and allow his staff to return to work. He does not trust the state will apply this level of thought and attention to his business, so he developed a reopening plan on his own.
“The state doesn’t know anything about the bowling business any more than I know how to write a law,” Moody said.
When asked how long Yankee Lanes could stay afloat despite being closed, Moody made clear the future of his business is in jeopardy.
“The Paycheck Protection Program funding will be gone in mid-June. Then we have to go back to using our reserves. We can only survive until September or October if we’re not allowed to reopen,” Moody said.
Moody is critical of of Governor Mills’ reopening plan and thinks many aspects of it are arbitrary and unscientific.
“The governor was right at first to shut things down, but now it’s time to reopen,” he said. “You can’t pick and choose who can and cannot open along county lines. I’m closed, but businesses just a mile down the road in Topsham are allowed to reopen.”
“You can’t compare Brunswick to Portland,” Moody said.
Moody will continue to wait until he receives guidance from the state before reopening, but he’s afraid the damage has already been done to his business and other establishments in Brunswick.
“There’s a good chance that this shutdown has already ruined my business,” Moody said.