Park Bowl began in 1954
Park Bowl is a multi-generational business at 4175 Guide Meridian in Bellingham Washington… Since the Governor’s office took total control of all state activities in March of 2020; Bowling Alley’s and Gymnasium’s have seemed to be targeted by the rules pouring out of the Governor’s office right along with many other small businesses in Washington State.
Kristin Keyes-Halterman of ABC Bookkeeping and Co-Owner of Park Bowl gave a presentation to a business club meeting…The following is her story in her own words.
It personalizes the story of many small businesses throughout Washington State and their frustrating struggle with a government that is supposed to serve them and instead has aided big businesses such as COSTCO and Fred-Meyer and Target trusting only them to be able to be prepared for a safe business environment.
It brings forth the time, energy and heartache involved, watching the unfairness that continues to this day because government cannot respond.
Here is the Presentation:
Being Essential in an Upside-Down World
Up is down and down is up
When good is evil and evil is good
“Whose reworded evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.”
It goes against all moral and scriptural writings; history has shown that these actions will have severe negative outcomes in the end.
What could those negative outcomes be?
Obviously, it is a loss to individual freedom when the foundation that our civil liberties are based upon have been structurally damaged, when we cannot count on the 3-branches of government to follow the People’s contract with their government. People are afraid to live the life they were promised. Businesses are afraid to open because of new and restrictive government controls on their ability to operate profitably.
The government has been in the process of restricting single-family home ownership and expanding multi-family homes and shelters through man-made regulations, not market forces. With the advent of covid, people and families now realize the true value of a single-family home because the local, state, and federal government’s shutdown our lives. At the same time, law abiding citizens watched in horror as protests turned violent and destroyed business districts. These violent groups were and continue to be treated inequitably, have violated the norms of law-and-order, shaken our understanding of public safety, and spread that fear on top of the 24/7 media and news coverage about covid. This fear was fed to everyone as a motivation to ‘stay-home and stay-safe.’
How has all of this affected me, my family’s business, and our ability to survive the madness and rebuild our business?
2019 was a great year for our business as it was for many others. Business was booming. 2020 was on the path to do the same…till the last week of February 2020 and first half of March 2020. Income dropped 13% the first week of March; 15% the 2nd week of March; 83% the weekend of March 15/16. News was spreading fast about the virus in Washington State and the Governor’s plan to shut down businesses on March 16th.
By Sunday evening the family (Park Bowl is a family-owned business) had made the decision that we would be calling in all the staff to lay them off to help flatten the curve and stop bleeding cash from the business.
For the next couple of weeks, I watched every financial show I could and listened to every press conference that Pres. Trump and Gov. Inslee held; we needed to know if we were going to reopen, or if we were not reopening, how were we going to weather the storm?
Very soon after the shutdown the Trump Administration was making plans to bridge the shutdown for businesses. Gov. Inslee’s office had no information on business bridge loans, grants, or forgiveness of taxes and/or fees…although I did reach out to state tax agencies to ask for a deferral of our business tax payments. These agencies agreed to deferrals but none of them allowed for a deferral beyond approx. 60-90 days.
The Advent Of PPP Grants/Loans
The Trump Administration’s PPP grant turned into a loan, then to a forgivable loan. At the time I applied for the first round of PPP loans, the funds received could be forgiven if spent within 60-days for employee wages, payroll taxes, utilities, mortgages, and rents. Originally Congress had approved to allow PPP loans to be forgiven, but forgiven loans would need to be claimed as ordinary income and the business/payroll expenses paid with those funds would not be considered a business tax deduction. This was insanity on steroids — shutdown business and offer a loan, but if your PPP loan is forgiven your taxable income increased and your tax deductions decreased. An upside-down world.
Sometime in late 2020 the Federal Government finally came to an agreement that forgiven PPP loans would not have the funds taxed as ordinary income and the expenses paid with those funds would qualify as a business tax deduction.
Adding to debt to stay open.
The SBA EIDL funds were easier to apply for, but again, this is just added debt which would have never been needed had businesses been allowed to reopen responsibly and all businesses treated as an essential part of the local economy. Debt is debt and we just wanted to get reopened. In late Spring and early Summer, it was apparent to me that the people were coming out of their homes, they were shopping, and even during the brief Phase 2 reopening—many small businesses were beginning to pick up. During this same period, it became apparent that the shutdown was not about flattening the curve and making certain that the medical community could handle the covid cases and we would need to develop a plan to be prepared when reopening happened.
We began to develop a plan and part of that plan was to have the ability to take online reservations for bowling and food and beverages sales, so that we would be ready to comply with the social distancing guidelines for reopening. This was a big change for us and our customers. We now needed to plan for social distancing, restricted occupancy rules, rigid cleaning standards, and striving to maintain our reputation as a family friendly, fun, and safe place to recreate at. We have always had high standards of cleaning; now we needed to step up our game and figure out what to do with all those house bowling balls, keep them clean, and help our customers to use a bowling ball that best fit their hand and strength.
Changing the company business Model
Park Bowl has been in business since 1954 and other than our birthday parties and large group or corporate reservations, almost all bowling was purchased and paid for ‘per-game’ vs ‘time-bowling.’ To manage the social distancing requirements and hope to reopen without losing money we could no longer offer bowling per game and everyone needed to pay by time-bowling. This allowed us to control the number of people on each lane and the flow of people into and out of the Center. Guess what? It worked! We were not making money, but we were not bleeding cash at 25% and most of our customers did not complain about wearing a mask while they bowled, or that we had to pull their alcohol drinks at 10 pm. Early in November the Inslee Administration extended the sales and indoor consumption of alcohol drinks to 11 pm, and then Inslee rolled everyone back to Phase 1. Bowling Centers could be open in Phase 1. What were the protocols for Phase 1? No more than six-customers from the same household in you Center at one time, no matter what the size of your building footprint. Those six-customers could order take out, but they could not consume any food or beverages within our facility. Crazy! Park Bowl has a building footprint of almost 26,000 sq ft. and we were only allowed six-customers inside the building at a time. Park Bowl was effectively shutdown again due to the Inslee Administration’s unpredictable, unequal, and seemingly unscientific protocols.
From March 16th, 2020 until September 2nd, 2020, we were completely closed.
Some of our staff came in to do deep cleaning and some minor interior repairs and maintenance; others worked on developing new pricing guidelines, an online bowling reservation system, and online food orders; we would not know if our efforts to create an online system would work until we reopened. From September 2nd thru November 16th, 2020, when we were briefly reopened, we worked out a lot of the online bugs. That was all for league bowling and league practice, or what we now referred to as ‘Club’ bowling, because open play was not allowed. Membership clubs were created, and members could come in and ‘practice bowl.’ All small businesses were playing this same wordsmithing game to comply with rules and have enough customers coming through the doors to justify being open.
League bowling was a different hurdle to sell to our customers. Almost all league bowling is comprised of teams of 4-bowlers. Normal league bowling is done with paired lanes assigned 2 teams of 4-bowlers each ‘and’ they bowl cross-lane on those paired lanes. For those unfamiliar with what that means; if you are bowling on lanes 1 and 2, you bowl on lane 1 for one frame of bowling and the next frame is bowled on lane 2. The bowlers continue this way throughout their 3 games. But the Inslee Administration did not want to allow cross-lane bowling. Why? There is only one ball return. Each paired lane shares the same ball return and ball caddy. What additional risk is it to bowl on 2 lanes when they share the same ball return and caddy? Plus, the Inslee Administration would only allow 2 bowlers per lane no matter how much space your Center offered for social distancing. But our leagues are setup with teams of 4-bowlers, cross-lane bowling, and moving week-to-week to compete against different teams under the same paired, lane conditions. Washington State Bowling Centers compromised with Inslee on 2 bowlers per lane with cross-lane bowling. This now meant that Team 1 bowled on lanes 1 and 2 ‘and’ Team 2 bowled on lanes 3 and 4, competing for wins and losses. They were no longer competing on identical lane conditions, but the compromise was better than no leagues at all. We lost about 50% of our league bowlers because of all these new rules and we will not know for certain if they will return until next Fall. Some did not want to bowl under these new rules. Some left because the Governor shutdown, restarted, and re-shut our businesses. Others left because there is real fear that has permeated our state and until it subsides and we are comfortable returning to our everyday lives, this reality will affect all of us.
The Current Picture
Fast forward to reopening on Feb. 15th, 2021 and we are still at 2-bowlers per lane, bowlers must wear a mask when bowling, and you may only lower your mask to eat and drink in an approved restaurant seating and eating area. Lucky for us we have a large facility with lots of well-spaced seating and eating areas. The first week we opened was slow — the second week picked up a lot and we are only into our 3rd week of being reopened. Can you imagine how happy we were when it was snowing so heavily over February 13th through the morning of February 15th? Thankfully, it warmed up and our reopening was not further delayed by Mother Nature.
It is still a roller coaster of uncertainty because we are still only allowed 25% capacity, but that now includes the entire Center except for the bowling lanes. We still must stop all alcohol sales and pull all alcohol drinks by 11 pm each night, with social distancing rules monitored throughout our hours of operations. We still need to clean all touchable surfaces after customers leave, including the ball returns and ball caddies, the house bowling balls, and rental shoes. We are hopeful that Phase 3 will allow all businesses to move to 50% capacity and 4-bowlers per lane—Washington State is the only state in the nation with 2-bowlers per lane restrictions.
It is irrational to think that a government agency like the Health Department, which advises the Inslee Administration on policy, would set such different and arbitrary rules for differing industries. They publicly tell everyone how we all need to treat each other with equality, equity, and tell us that we are all in this together. No, we were not all in this together — the mega businesses and tech industries were raking in cash while the small businesses have been hung out to shrivel and die. Those that did not die will need to work for years to rebuild their businesses.
As the rest of the nation moves to fully reopen, Washington State is still in limbo and has no transparent idea of what it will take to move to Phase 3, let alone to Phase 4 of fully reopened. The Inslee Administration and current leadership in Olympia has turned a deaf ear on small businesses and now the Biden Administration is working to increase taxes and regulations, while doing nothing to help expand small businesses back to their original healthy economic state. If there is one thing I have learned over my decades of working in small business, is that small businesses can run circles around large business if the government does not restrict their ability to compete.
That type of thinking is missing from our current political leaders who are in charge, it is not being taught in our K-12 classes, or our higher education courses. Education has shifted their focus for all businesses to be more concerned about their social credit score, than whether they properly and meaningfully serve the community that they are a part of, while still maintaining profitability; all of this is needed to continue their, their staff’s, and their community’s shared and interdependent growth. It takes decades to build a business and a future for yourself, your family, your staff, and the community. All private businesses are essential. If there is a need or a want, there will be a customer base waiting to buy your products or use your services. We each serve a need to the economy—it is sort of like blockchain technology—if one piece of the block is removed the whole system stops functioning until that block is rejoined elsewhere or replaced.
There is much more to this story, but I am not sharing this to drum up sympathy. My story is the same story as many other small businesses. As a community of people who care we must work together to ensure that this “Emergency Authorization” that was and still is being used to curtail our ability to work, live, and play here, is fixed; we must never allow this happen again.