Eastmont Lanes OPEN

Eastmont Bowling is back

Where striking out is a good thing

 

Story and photos by Gary Bégin

EAST WENATCHEE -- The Wenatchee Business Journal spoke to the manager/owner of Eastmont Lanes last month to find out how the largest bowling center in Chelan and Douglas counties has fared with the pandemic. Eastmont Lanes boss Michelle Baugher, told us this:

Wenatchee Business Journal: Who runs this place?

Eastmont Lanes: It has been a family owned business for many years. My parents retired and I bought it from them about five years ago.

WBJ: How did your business survive 2020 and COVID-19? 

EL: At first, when we were forced to close in the spring of 2020, we tried to do take out food. I was basically searching for a way to keep my key employees working. So we focused on take out and trying to do as many renovation projects as we could (like painting, re-organizing) on a shoe string budget. At that time, I didn’t think we would be closed more than a few weeks. As time went on and we remained closed, it became apparent that doing take-out was not going to work long-term. We were losing money. So at that point we decided to close completely and to hope for the best.  

WBJ: How hard was it to keep employees or were you able to use the PPP?

EL: I tried to keep employees, but when it became apparent that when they could make more on unemployment, it felt almost selfish of me to keep them working. I wanted to do right by them. We did get a PPP loan, but since we still had to pay utilities, bills, insurance, etc., it eventually ran out. We also did a community yard sale in the summer which was amazing, we had a huge response both in donations and people showing up to the sale. We also ran an online craft bazaar/auction right before Christmas, which generated some income and one of our regular league bowlers, Auna Lundberg, set up a Go Fund Me which has helped as well. If it wasn’t for the community support, we would have been done many months ago.

WBJ: Did the landlord give you a break due to the pandemic?

EL: My landlords Barb and Tim Morello, are the only thing that kept us from going under! They have been incredibly gracious and understanding. When we were forced to close the first time, Barb immediately reached out to me and told me they would support us and do whatever they could to help us survive. They have taken a huge hit financially, but are still willing to do whatever they can to make sure we get through this. They have been an absolute blessing during this mess and I really can’t thank them enough. I hope that someday I will be able to make it right for them.  

WBJ: How much was 2020 down from 2019 revenue wise?

EL: Almost 100 percent. We were only able to be open for two weeks in November before we were shut down again. If not for loans and fundraisers we would have been closed permanently many months ago.

WBJ: Has retaining employees been a problem?

EL: Yes. I lost some of my most valuable employees because they had to find other jobs. They had been with us for years and were more like family, so it was really hard to see them go, even though of course I want the best for them. Luckily, I was able to retain a core group of staff, and I’m so happy and grateful they have stuck with me.

WBJ: What is the current state of the business? Catching up? Profitable?

EL: With the restrictions placed upon bowling (only 2 people allowed per lane), it’s going to be very difficult and we will be lucky to break even as it stands now. Even though it looks like we are busy, we are only able to have a small percentage of bowlers compared to what we used to have, yet we still have to pay employees, taxes, bills, etc. What sends shivers down my back is the fact that no county is safe from getting kicked back to phase one. It’s all about the metrics. If we are forced to shut down again due to being pushed back to phase one, I simply don’t know if we can continue. Each time we are forced to close and then re-open, there is a cost involved of re-stocking and getting things ready in the café and arcade, and our bowling machines have to be maintained even when we are closed, in order to make sure they run when we are open. Losing even one lane to a breakdown is costly. I don’t know what the breaking point is - if we had a clear path forward it would be different, but this endless sense of not knowing if we are going to be allowed to stay open is painful and scary. As much as I want to keep going, am I willing to risk what is left of my life savings and retirement? I simply don’t know.

WBJ: What is your current operating procedure based on Gov. Inslee's rules?

EL: We are open seven days a week, but with limited hours. We are currently allowed to have two bowlers per lane. Yet a family of six can come in and dine together in our café. It makes no sense and our customers are frustrated and I understand and share that frustration. The arcade and café are open at 25 percent capacity. Right now there is no plan for phase three, which is really concerning as it offers us no path forward, no “light at the end of the tunnel”, and we have been in a very dark tunnel for a long time.

WBJ: Would you like to add anything else?

EL: We have had to re-think our entire business model when it comes to bowling. We have transitioned to all online reservations. The link is posted on our website: eastmontlanes.net Everything is in one-hour blocks of time rather than paying by the game. Leagues as we used to know them have ceased to exist for now. The best we can do is doubles leagues, which is unfortunate because almost all our leagues before were teams of four. We are trying to offer a couple of options to our league bowlers, but it’s not ideal. Yet not everything is doom and gloom and I really am trying to focus on the positive side. We try to deal with the situation with humor and grace rather than complain. We have had so much support from the community, I can’t thank them enough. People are doing what they can, whether it’s bowling or buying a soda in the café or playing a few games in the arcade. I’m not exaggerating when I say I am humbled by how much love we have been shown. I am so grateful we live in this community, where people support one another.

The bowling establishment also features an arcade – The Dragon’s Lair – fun for all ages. To support the great American pastime of bowling, go to: 704 Grant Road, East Wenatchee or call 509-884-3593 or email eastmontlanes@msn.com.

 

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