Bowling centers challenging state guidelines

ISBPA lawsuit aims to lift current capacity restrictions


ROCHELLE — When Illinois entered Phase 4 of Gov. J.B Pritzker’s Restore Illinois economic reopening strategy, many businesses around the state including gyms, retail stores and restaurants were allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity.

Bowling centers like Rochelle’s T-Byrd Lanes haven’t received that same guidance, however, and a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Illinois State Bowling Proprietors Association will seek to amend the current limitations.

The ISBPA published a press release Tuesday stating that successive orders issued by the governor have caused “tremendous emotional and financial hardship” over the last several months. Under the current Phase 4 guidelines, bowling centers are allowed to reopen with only 50 people in the building.

For owners such as T-Byrd Lanes operator Dan Wyka, ongoing restrictions have presented the bowling center with many challenges financially.

“We’ve had to extend our loans and we’ve had to not make loan payments on our mortgages for a couple of months,” Wyka said. “Bowling comes first, and with the pandemic ongoing, there are still people who don’t want to come out. We’re doing our best to clean everything, but the financial impact on us has been huge… We’re hurting right now, and if we can’t start our leagues up in August when we normally start them, we’re going to be in big trouble.”

ISBPA executive director R. William Duff stated in the Tuesday press release that bowling centers around the state have instituted a broad range of safety and sanitation measures as well as strict guidelines such as leaving one empty lane between each group of bowlers and daily temperature and wellness checks. At T-Byrd Lanes, Wyka said he and his staff have stepped up to ensure the bowling center is safe for both bowlers and employees.

“We have one table per pair of lanes and we leave all the bowling balls down on the lane,” Wyka said. “We sanitize them with bleach before we put the balls back for the next customers. We spray all the bowling shoes and everything gets left by the lanes before we take care of the cleaning. We’ve placed plastic over the keypads so the next group isn’t touching a keypad that the previous group touched. We’ve shut down our arcade games and vending machines because we’re trying to keep people from touching something that somebody else touched.”

If bowling centers like T-Byrd Lanes are confined to 50 or fewer people, Wyka said the limitation will have a significant impact on running leagues, which Wyka said are a major source of revenue for the business. While adjustments could be made to adult leagues, questions about youth leagues and high school meets would still remain.

“We have three leagues that are right around the 50-person mark, which would mean that we could bring the bowlers in, but we wouldn’t have anybody in the bar or the restaurant,” Wyka said. “We have 70 bowlers during our Thursday league, so we would have to figure out what to do with about 20 of those bowlers… We could have 70 percent of our leagues, but we’d have to think about our youth leagues and high school leagues because our parents like to come and watch the kids... If we have to cut leagues down to 50 people, it’s going to hurt the business.”

An increase to 50 percent capacity would allow Wyka to host 100 people at T-Byrd Lanes, which would allow he and his staff to host all of their regular leagues. Since the bowling center reopened, Wyka said all bowlers have been asked to wear masks while inside, and additional sanitizing stations have been added to ensure bowlers are keeping their hands clean.

“We’re in good shape if we can get to 100 people,” Wyka said. “I could have all of our bowlers as well as our employees and some customers in our restaurant at separate tables. We’ve posted on our doors that people wear masks… We’d ask our league bowlers to stay with their teams at their tables, which are already separated. We’re adding more hand sanitizing stations and we’re getting to the point where we’ll have a sanitizing station behind every pair of lanes.”

The ISBPA lawsuit filed in Lee County will ask the court to issue a restraining order prohibiting the state from enforcing the governor’s order and request the latest executive order be deemed invalid. In the press release, Duff said the ISBPA has invested around $40,000 to provide bowling centers around the state with proper protective equipment. Moreover, Duff stated that bowling is an activity that can be performed safely while wearing a mask.

“I agree with the lawsuit,” Wyka said. “I think the 50-percent number should apply to all bowling centers as long as we social distance. I don’t think it’s fair to keep businesses to 50 people regardless of the size of their building. I believe 50 percent is fair.”