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Citrus Heights bowling alley staying afloat so far, while others close permanently

Steve Cook, owner of Fireside Lanes in Citrus Heights, stands inside his bowling alley during renovations. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip–
Many family entertainment venues across California have been hard hit by the state’s COVID-19 shutdown orders, and Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes in Citrus Heights is no exception.

The Sentinel sat down with owner Steve Cook, a bowling hall of fame champion, to see how he’s navigating the uncertain economic climate.

Not one to sit back on his laurels, Cook is using the downtime to make improvements and upgrades to the aging bowling alley. An announcement from Fireside Lanes in April showed the old floor ripped out in preparation for new flooring and furnishings.

Cook purchased new lanes last year from a bowling alley in Florida that was closing. In total, he estimates having spent about $250,000 in renovations over the summer.

“I was planning on doing it this summer anyway,” Cook said. “When COVID hit, it just made the timing a little better for me there, because I didn’t have to shut down, but I wasn’t expecting to be shut down this long.”

Cook said summer months are typically a slow time for the indoor sport, and the COVID-19 closure gave him an opportunity to make additional improvements he had not otherwise planned. In addition to new lanes, Cook is making upgrades to other areas of the facility which he requested not be photographed in preparation for a big reveal in the near future.

Unlike many struggling businesses, Cook owns the land where the bowling alley is located, giving him some flexibility to weather the current economic storm. He said he could potentially reduce overhead costs to basic utilities if necessary.

“My overhead would not be that much if I had to get rid of everybody,” said Cook. “I don’t want that to happen though.”

Fireside lanes had a staff of 45 before the shutdown. Today, payroll has been reduced to three: a mechanic, a manager, and an after-hours employee.

“I even took myself off the payroll, so I don’t get a check either,” he said.

Although reducing his staff has helped, Cook doesn’t know how much longer he can hold out if shutdown restrictions are not lifted. The Paycheck Protection Program loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration ran out after eight weeks. The bowling alley has been closed since mid-March.

Cook said he is aware of several bowling centers in California that will not reopen. These casualties of the shutdown include 61-year-old Cloverleaf Family Bowl in Fremont. A July 25 statement on Cloverleaf’s website said the family owned business was no longer able to pay rent, utilities, and insurance among other expenses with no income coming in during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

Typically, Fireside Lanes would be gearing up for the busy winter season and league bowling by the end of summer, leaving Cook concerned about the business if the shutdown continues through next year.

“I don’t know how much longer we’re expecting to do this stuff,” he told The Sentinel last week. “I know that COVID is out there, but everybody needs to put on a mask and let’s go back to work and let places opened up.”

Once restrictions are lifted, Cook plans to implement sanitation measures to reduce cross-contamination. Staff will sanitize each bowling ball after each use, and social distancing can be accommodated in the 32 lane facility.

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