When bowling alleys across Maryland closed in March, business owners were unsure how long they would be closed and if they fit into Phase 2 or Phase 3 of Governor Larry Hogan’s Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery plan.
Severna Park Lanes owner Mike Hall, who is also the president of the Maryland Bowling Proprietors Association, said the Maryland organization and the affiliated national organization worked together to establish reopening procedures.
“We were fortunate to open in Phase 2,” said Hall, who was eager to return to business on June 19. “We can only have 50 percent of our facility occupied, and in most cases, we have been social distancing by utilizing every other lane. Masks are required everywhere except the tables where people are eating and drinking.”
Severna Park Lanes requires its staff to do daily temperature checks. Shoes and bowling balls are taken to a special area to be sanitized. Hall hopes that these efforts encourage visitors who may be nervous about returning to the bowling alley.
“We were hopeful it would be cabin fever and people would come out in large numbers. We haven’t really seen that,” Hall said. “It’s important to recognize that we’ve all become smarter than we were pre-COVID in March. We make sure our staff and customers are coming into a safe environment.
“Like other businesses, we’re trying to build confidence with the customer to come in and show them a good time,” he said.
One of those other businesses is EscapeTime, which also reopened in June after implementing changes that might be noticeable to guests. Arrows on the floor were added to direct foot traffic. A hand-sanitizing station is set up in the lobby.
Manager Anthony Dunning said bookings are on the rise as customers take advantage of EscapeTime’s online reservation system that automatically books the whole room when a person submits their information.
“You can have fun and not worry about exposure to strangers,” Dunning said. “We guarantee a safe, germ-free, fun environment.”
Dunning was thrilled to get back to EscapeTime, a place where he can pose puzzles to guests who are looking for a fun challenge. He remembers his first experience with escape rooms, and he wants to share that joy with others.
“I got hooked,” he said when asked about his first experience. “I loved solving these puzzles right there instead of on an app or website. The atmosphere, the creativity, the immersion was amazing.”
The Blended Essentials has tried to brainstorm creative ways to keep people engaged since the pandemic started. An 11-week summer camp was held from July through September. The Blended Essentials and Annapolis Home Brew partnered in July and August for a two-night event to teach people how to make wine and candles.
During an interview with Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce CEO Liz League in June, The Blended Essentials owner Danielle Bowen said staffing was a challenge. She credited local businesses like The Big Bean and Annapolis Home Brew for supporting her during a difficult time. That support, combined with the business’ online presence, has kept The Blended Essentials in operation, she said.
“We built an online store and then we built packages, such as candle-making and bath-making kits,” Bowen told League. “We hosted two birthday parties, meaning we sent all the packages out, so we created birthdays at home. We embraced the new opportunities to grow and stay connected.”
Outside of Severna Park, some regional venues are welcoming people for the first time since the pandemic started. Rams Head On Stage reopened September 25 for live music. Due to government restrictions, Rams Head is operating with a 100-capacity limit until further notice.
To create a safe, socially distanced experience, Rams Head On Stage is requiring customers to purchase all available seats at their table. Masks must be worn to the table and also at the table when guests are not consuming food or beverages.
Whether they run a music venue like Rams Head On Stage or a bowling alley like Severna Park Lanes, proprietors are eager to see more faces in their establishments. As Hall explained, proprietors are proud to give people a place to congregate and celebrate life’s major milestones.
“Bowling alleys are often part of the fabric of the community, and we want to encourage people to support us,” Hall said. “We’re a community center in a way, because people come to celebrate their birthday parties, New Year’s Eve, to celebrate their sports achievements. Bowling will always be fun for people of all ages.
“Bowling centers are safe, sanitized and ready to roll,” he said. “It’s time to get back to fun.”