When Gov. Jay Inslee mandated another round of business drawbacks and closures, it had a profound impact on local entertainment-related businesses.
The most recent round of mandates, which went into effect Nov. 15 shut down local bowling alleys and movie theaters and temporarily barred indoor dining at bars and restaurant operating in the state. Local owners of leisure businesses are once again feeling the pinch.
“I’m going to stay closed until this order and see what the next response is (from Governor Jay Inslee’s office),” said Rob Shaver, who owns and operates both Rainier Lanes (Aberdeen) and Shores Bowling (Ocean Shores) bowling alleys and has been an outspoken critic of the governor’s lock down measures. “The Governor says Dec. 14, but like I said, he’s a chronic liar.”
Shaver and his staff have been on a lockdown merry-go-round since last spring, having been shut down or having their business restricted for the fourth time. Shaver has become all too familiar with the process and was not surprised when the most recent restrictions were announced in mid-November.
“There was no shock. I was just wondering when it was going to happen,” he said. “I was running a skeleton crew, operating on skeleton hours with a skeleton inventory. … It’s the third time he’s closed us down and he always gives us little to no notice.”
After his businesses were allowed to reopen in September, though only at 25% capacity, Shaver has adjusted to keep a business that was successful and profitable before the pandemic from going under.
“Every time I close I throw away less stuff,” he said, adding he’s cut items from the menu during each lockdown/reopening cycle and has had to quickly shut off local garbage and utility services multiple times since March. “Every time I reopen, it’s harder to get the people to understand we are open again and come back.”
Mike Doolittle has owned and operated the Playtime Family Fun Center in Ocean Shores for 10 years and, though his business has remained operating under the same guidelines handed down from the governor’s office in July, the recent restrictions on surrounding businesses have continued to cut into his ability to remain open.
“Because there are no people here in town, it’s impacted my business greatly,” said Doolittle, referencing the impact of local bars and restaurants under the governor’s most recent guidelines. “All the restaurants have had to go to takeout. Nobody’s coming to the beach.”
The fun center was able to see some financial gains over the busy summer months though they were not allowed to open indoor attractions such as laser tag and bumper cars, but more recently the business has suffered as well under the governor’s orders that have been placed on surrounding businesses.
“The reason we did well this summer was because we were in Phase 3 while the rest of the state was in Phase 2,” he said. “But now, we’re suffering big time because who wants to come to Ocean Shores when the whole state is locked down?”
Doolittle stated that the lack of open businesses in the area and restaurants switching to a take-out-only model means less people available to visit his business.
“With the restrictions on restaurants, there is really no reason for anyone to come out here. Everything is closed,” he said. “Who wants to spend good money for food and have it put into a box and eat it in a car?”
While not financially feasible for his business to remain open at this time, Doolittle feels obligated to keep the lights on for what he said are two important reasons.
“The biggest reason I’m staying open is my employees because if they have to go on unemployment right now, there is nothing and they are really hurting because there isn’t much for unemployment,” Doolittle said, adding he currently employs 14 people. “The other reason is when people come out to Ocean Shores I want them to have as good as an experience as possible. Other places have locked their doors. The restaurants are closed. The arcade is closed. I’m looking across the road at the shops and nothing is open right now. Any tourists who come to town, they thank us for being open. But that’s just a handful of people.”
Another local fun center that has not been as lucky is the Extreme Fun Center at The Shoppes at Riverside mall in Aberdeen, which has been shut down for several months now due to it being an all indoor facility.
The business is owned by Coming Attractions Theatres, which also owns and operates the movie theatre by the same name at the same shopping mall in Aberdeen.
Washington state movie theaters have dealt with a similar track as bowling alleys, dealing with the peaks and valleys of government-induced closures and re-openings. In the most recent round of closures, the company was forced to shut its doors at both its Aberdeen and Chehalis locations, though there are no reports of movie theaters being “super spreaders” of COVID-19.
“To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a movie theater in the world that has been a base of transmission,”said Coming Attractions Director of Operations Mark Murin, whose company operates 18 theaters and three fun centers across four states. “Right now, we don’t have plans to close (the Aberdeen) location for good, but it’s precarious. … If we can reopen for Christmas, it will be helpful to us.”
To offset the financial losses of having multiple businesses shut down in once state, Coming Attractions is reopening two of its theaters in Oregon and has had its businesses in Alaska remain open for the past several months. Six of the companies 18 theaters and one fun center (Alaska) were open and operating as of Friday, mostly in Alaska and specific counties in Oregon.
Murin hopes to see more financial help come from Congress and to see the restrictions lifted ahead of the release of the highly-anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 feature release.
“Any little bit will be helpful. We are a small, regional movie theater chain,” he said. “I feel that once the restrictions are lifted, people will start coming back to the movie theaters and the fun center.”
Doolittle is also looking forward to the day when his business can fully reopen.
“Take away the restrictions. It’s very simple,” he said. “I just want to get back to taking care of customers and putting smiles on their faces. That is what we are in business for.”
Shaver, who doesn’t have the ability to remain open without potentially facing a fine and/or legal ramifications from the Governor’s office, has to wait again and contemplate his next move.
“I’m going to hold pat until (the Governor’s) next formal order is. And then I have to make a decision based on that,” he reiterated. “Do I go down willingly or do I go down swinging? And I’m the type of person when I have those choices, I do go down swinging. … For somebody to just take me out without a fight, that’s not my nature.”