WENATCHEE — As the North Central region moves to Phase 2, businesses are looking at the looser restrictions with hesitation and doubt.
“What we are going to do, I’m not sure,” said Tim Bowers, an Eastmont Lanes bowling alley employee. “Last time they went to Phase 2 it only lasted two weeks and we spent a lot of money on resupplying.”
Not all business owners are jumping out of their seats in excitement at the lifting of some of the state’s restrictions. It is expensive to buy new supplies, rehire people and reopen their businesses, Bowers and others say.
“If we can make it work, it’ll depend on what guidelines the governor sets,” Bowers said. “If it is like before — with only two people bowling on a lane with no spectators or families — it makes it difficult.”
In normal times, the business would rely on the profit from people bowling to make ends meet, he said. But if only two people can bowl on a lane at a time, sales from the restaurant would be important.
Last time the state reopened in November, the bowling alley purchased a lot of food and beer and was again shut down, Bowers said. All of the beer they purchased has expired and new products will need to be purchased.
It’s been tough for the bowling alley owners and their family since the pandemic started, he said. Bowers is the former owner of the East Wenatchee bowling alley; his daughter, Michelle Baugher, now runs the place. She managed to put some savings aside before the pandemic, so the bowling alley was able to use those funds and they also received a personal protective equipment grant, Bowers said.
“My wife and I have gone through what little savings we had” to help their daughter, Bowers said. “We’re going to be all right for a little while, but we definitely need to get more than Phase 2 to even break even at the best.”
The Liberty and Gateway Cinema movie theaters are in a similar position in hesitating to reopen, said Bryan Cook, Sun Basin Theaters vice president. The biggest reason for the pause, though, is the lack of movies coming out of Hollywood.
“The other side of the coin is we need movies to play,” Cook said. “Right now there is just a lack of product out there from Hollywood. A lot of the studios have held their big titles back.”
In addition, production companies are sending their movies to streaming services, which is hurting movie theaters, he said.
It’s tough to make the decision to reopen, buy popcorn, candy and soda and rehire people without anything to play in the theater, Cook said.
A lot of people came out in November when the movie theaters reopened for a couple of weeks, despite the theater being only open on weekends and at 25% capacity, he said. Cook said he really appreciated the show of support.
“(But) it would just be terrible to reopen and then just be shut down again,” he said. “And the restaurants I think are in the same position. They spend thousands of dollars on food and then they have to close.”
The Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center will be taking advantage of the move to Phase 2 to reopen, said Kristin Lodge, the museum’s director of development and communication. The museum has actually been open for people to experience by appointment, but there has been a public perception that it is closed.
“So what’s exciting about the next phase is we’re able to move to 25% capacity, which really for the square footage of our museum is lots of people,” Lodge said.
The museum will still be doing bookings through the next week, but it will start being open to the general public on Feb. 23, she said. It will be limiting people to a maximum of five households, but will slowly increase that amount until it reaches 25% capacity.
The museum has done better than expected economically during the pandemic, due to an outpouring of public support, Lodge said. It received over $150,000 in 2020 through a combination of donations and grants.
“I’m just blown away by how generous our community has been,” she said.
The museum still took about an 80% hit to its usual revenues, but staff have managed to match it by reducing expenses, Lodge said. It isn’t a sustainable trend, though, and they are nervous looking at the next year.
“Our hope is to by the end of this year reach some version of a new normal,” she said.