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Business Pulse - Strike up the entertainment
Bowling alley.jpg
Avery Meeks, 3, gets a hand from Corey Terrell as she prepares to bowl Friday night at K.P.'s McMinnville Lanes. The bowling alley has reopened and is ready for business.

I’m not sure how many of us were bound by the shackles of isolation during the governor’s stay-at-home orders. By the look of some businesses, you could have convinced me the governor had issued stay-at-Kroger orders.

Regardless of your level of social distancing, I think everyone is eager for things to return to “normal,” with normal being defined as what we were doing in February.

Gov. Bill Lee is doing his best to reopen the state in a safe manner. Businesses are more than happy to oblige and reopen their doors.

K.P.’s McMinnville Lanes was among the first entertainment venues to reopen in Warren County as it has been open for more than a week.

“People seem to be more comfortable every day we’re open,” said Kent Perry, who owns the bowling alley with his wife Betty. “The first couple days, everyone was squirting our hand sanitizer anytime they did anything. Now I hardly see anybody using it so I’d say there’s definitely less concern.”

The latest guidelines call for there to be one empty lane for every five lanes of bowling. So people can bowl on Lanes 1-4 with Lane 5 left open. People can bowl on Lanes 6-9 with Lane 10 left open.

Betty says she has received several calls asking if masks are required to bowl. They are not.

She added she was happy to close when the fear of COVID-19 was at its peak, but she believes conditions are now conducive to reopen in a safe environment.

“There was so much fear early on because we just didn’t know what this was,” said Betty. “But now we seem to have a better idea and there are things in place so I think it was time.”

Betty said all six of her employees received federal unemployment benefits on top of their state benefits are were earning between $648 and $700 a week after taxes during the layoff. She said they were all eager to return to work, even though they took a pay cut to work instead of collect unemployment.

“You’re not going to make that kind of money cooking in a bowling alley, but they were all bored and anxious to get back to work,” said Betty.

McMinnville Lanes has returned to its regular hours with open bowling on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 3 to 11 p.m.

At Three Star Cinema, owner Bob Bassham said he will decide whether to open on a week-to-week basis. Surprisingly, he says that’s nothing new as he’s been doing that for years.

“People think this is a walk in the park but it’s a tough business,” said Bob. “It’s seven days a week, day and night. The weekends are our busy time so we’d make it through Sunday night to get to Monday and then decide if we want to reopen for the coming weekend. We’ve been doing that for two or three years.”

Bob says he understands there are several independent movie theaters that will not be reopening after the pandemic. He doesn’t plan on being one of them, but he said film companies need to return to giving movie theaters the first chance to show new releases and not allow them to hit streaming services first.

“Once they go public, it’s tough for us to make much money on them,” said Bob.

He said film companies must make a commitment to return to the “theatrical run.” This is the term used when a blockbuster like Spider-Man is released to all movie theaters in the nation on the same date.

Bob said the film companies take a very large percentage of his box office gate. The main way movie theaters make money is through concession sales, which is money they get to keep.

During the shutdown, Bob says he and his staff have sanitized every seat at Three Star Cinema, which amounts to right at 975 seats in five theaters. In a sad bit of news, his wife, Wanda, tripped over a hose while doing seat cleaning and broke her left arm. Get well soon, Wanda!

Bob says he will continue to evaluate whether to open on a weekly basis and he’ll be sure to publicize when the theater is up and running.

“It doesn’t make much sense to reopen if we end up losing money that weekend,” said Bob.

Hot Wheels Skate Center has made an announcement about when it will reopen and that date is this coming Friday, May 29. Owner Frank Miller says his 10-week closure has presented challenges he’s never encountered before.

“I asked my accountant how I’m supposed to do a sales tax report for April when I didn’t collect any money. We were closed the entire month,” said Frank.

But being closed for such an extended period did have a small advantage.

“Short of a major health crisis, we would have never taken off for 10 weeks for anything else so it was nice in that respect,” said Frank.

The skating rink quietly celebrated 20 years in business during the closure. It opened on May 5, 2000.

Among changes at Hot Wheels, Frank has installed plexiglass at the concession stand and skate rental area to provide separation between employees and skaters. With a capacity of 350, he says he can still allow 175 skaters in and abide by the guidelines of operating at 50% capacity.

He said summer is traditionally his slowest time but he has no idea about this summer with the city ballparks being closed and some families likely to stay around town for vacation.

Frank said skating rinks will always have a special place in his heart because he first met his wife Tammy at the old Northgate Skate Center when it first opened around 1976-ish.

“Skate centers are really a great place for those who are 12, 13, 14 to learn how to date,” said Frank. “You can hold hands for the first time. You can sneak a kiss and it’s all done in a safe environment. I know a few couples who first met here and now they’re married.”