SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Bowling is a sport steeped in Americana. While it may not be the national pastime, the sound of crashing pins, balls rolling on polished wooden floors and arcade games combined with the sights of classic bowling shoes, video displays and snack bars are ingrained in the memories of many, from the leisurely funseeker to the dedicated league bowler, in communities large and small across the country and beyond.
Like many other facets of life, sports and entertainment, bowling alleys across the country were shuttered as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but with Phase III of Rhode Island’s reopening plan in full effect, bowling alleys across the state are beginning to reopen in limited capacities, including the Old Mountain Lanes in Wakefield.
The bowling alley welcomed back its first bowlers on June 30, running a limited Tuesday through Friday schedule of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. while closing for the holiday weekend before returning Monday with new hours of 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
“It’s not full hours but it’s some sort of normal hours (with) 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., where in the past we’ve been open until 1a.m.,” Old Mountain Lanes owner Robert Toth said. “We open at 9 a.m. normally, but it’s 10-10 right now and we’ll see how it goes.”
Under Phase III, bowling alleys, along with movie theaters, museums, arcades and other similar businesses are allowed to reopen at 66 percent capacity, with a cap of 125 people, while those indoor businesses that were running on square foot capacity are now able to increase up to one additional person per 100 square feet as long as they socially distance at least six feet apart.
At Old Mountain Lanes, masks are still required for entering, exiting and walking around the facility, but can be removed if so chosen while bowling, and lanes must be reserved ahead of time.
With a facility over 30,000 square feet in size and offering 24 lanes, Toth said complying with social distancing guidelines and regulations hasn’t been all too difficult.
“We’re basically using every other lane, so we’re putting a space in between the bowlers,” Toth said. “The bowling balls are all sanitized, so if a family were to come in and they get a lane, they pick out the bowling ball they want and then they leave the bowling ball in place when they’re done and we sanitize the balls before we put them back, same thing with the shoes.”
Restrooms at the facility are also sanitized every half hour.
As for bowlers returning, Toth said he’s seen some families, but that it’s mainly been bowlers who participate in leagues at the lanes that have been coming in, itching for that return to the game they love.
“The women and men I’m talking about are diehard bowlers, so they really missed it so they’re happy to come in and throw a couple of games,” Toth said. “They’ve been out of it for over three months now so they’ve really missed it.”
Bowling leagues are set to return next week according to Toth, though they will feature smaller teams and run shorter schedules.
“Next week we’re going to start a couple leagues and we’re only talking one with two members per team and one with three members per team, so there could be possibly six people on a pair of lanes and we’d skip a pair next to them, so there’s going to be plenty of space,” Toth said, adding the “scaled down” leagues will run for six weeks each, as opposed to their usual 30 or more weeks.
While the lanes have reopened within the past two weeks, their restaurant, The Coffee Shop, has been serving diners both outdoors and indoors since June 8.
“We’re doing social distancing (at The Coffee Shop) and as soon as we opened, we had a state Department of Health inspection and they were very pleased with what they saw on the protocols we had put in place and we scored 100 on their report,” Toth said.
As for business on the dining side, Toth said it’s been steadily growing, with customers tending to prefer outdoor dining.
“It kind of trickled in at first but it’s been increasingly more and more and we’re using the outside,” Toth said. “The outside’s been successful, so we’re using outside and inside because there are some customers who are still leary about going indoors to a restaurant, so the outside component keeps them satisfied.”
Looking ahead, Toth isn’t sure yet when Old Mountain Lanes will be able to return to their full hours of 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., but doesn’t anticipate things changing much soon.
“I think right now it’s more of a wait and see,” Toth said. “I think the 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. works for us right now because we’re not getting into the big crowds (like when) we had the cosmic bowling on Friday and Saturday nights, I don’t see that coming back for quite a while so there’s no sense in being (open later), so everybody can do what they want until 10 (p.m.), families and things like that, and then we wind it down at 10 (p.m.).”
He especially noted that those nights tend to be popular for University of Rhode Island students, and reiterated that the days of a return to fully occupied lanes and late night bowling are still a ways away.
“I think it’ll be quite some time until we see the crowds coming back,” Toth said.
In the meantime though, Toth says him and his staff have the tools to handle whatever’s thrown at them in terms of adjustments.
“We have adequate staff and it’s manageable because everyone needs the business,” Toth said.
As for other businesses, Toth particularly feels for the restaurant industry.
“I feel for all of the restaurants,” Toth said. “We’re sort of a hybrid operation here, restaurant and bowling, so we’re feeling the effects of both sides of that so it’s been difficult.”
Over in North Kingstown, Kingstown Bowl, which has been part of the community since 1965, remains closed, but the alley announced via Facebook that they will be returning with their normal hours on Aug. 1.
The alley, which has been undergoing restorations since their closure in March, also announced the return of their 2020-21 AXS Fall League, which will run every Thursday night from Sept. 3 to April 15, 2021, with the exceptions of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.
As for Old Mountain Lanes, further details on their leagues will be released next week.
For more information on Old Mountain Lanes or to book a reservation to bowl, visit their website oldmountainlanesri.com or check them out on Facebook.
For updates on the Kingstown Bowl, visit their website kbowl.com or check them out on Facebook.