STATEN ISLAND N.Y. — The clanking of balls, the crashing of pins, and the pattering of shoes on the hardwood lanes.
Bowling was back on Monday afternoon at Rab’s Country Lanes, providing some semblance of normalcy for Staten Island’s resident bowlers who returned to the alley for the first time in nearly five months.
Needless to say, both customers and proprietors alike were as excited as could be expected.
“We’re excited, it’s been a long time coming, but here we are: back to business and bowling,” said Rab’s Country Lanes proprietor Frank Wilkinson. “Today is emotional, we’re just happy to get back to bowling…this proves that we can get back to some sort of normalcy.”
While the re-opening did provide a sense of normalcy, it also displayed some of the city’s mandated protocols, which include operating at a maximum 50% capacity, with every other lane closed to assure social distancing, as well as wearing face coverings.
Indoor dining and drinking are also not allowed, for the time being.
“This is not the end, it’s a step in the right direction and we hope to get back to our regular thing as long as we can do it safely,” added Wilkinson. “It’s up to all of us.”
Wilkinson, like everyone else, first heard the news on Friday that bowling centers would be allowed to operate as soon as Monday — yet Rab’s looked like it hadn’t skipped a beat since it initially shuttered its doors in Mid-March.
“On Friday, [Gov. Cuomo] dropped the bomb that we could reopen, so to flip the switch in 72 hours has been tremendous,” said Wilkinson. “The staff and team, and the preparation and cleaning, they did a tremendous job.
Throughout the alley, the dozens of bowlers in attendance did their part to maintain social distancing, while wearing their face coverings.
“[Government] had faith in us, as an industry, to do things the right way,” said Wilkinson. “We’ve had no issues, we’ll continue as a community to keep doing it, everybody respects it…it’s not for ourselves, but for everyone around us.”
ISLAND BOWLERS REACT
Bowlers of all ages and skill levels were out in full force for the re-opening on Monday, including Staten Island Bowling Hall of Famer Nancy Avignon.
“I truly missed the Rab’s community, I love it,” said the 67-year-old North Shore resident who began bowling in the 1960s. “At the crack of dawn I was up getting ready…I really couldn’t wait, it’s been such a long time.
“I missed being on the lanes and the sport immensely,” she added. “I truly couldn’t wait to get here, this is paradise for me.”
Avignon also cited the cleanliness of the venue, as well as the effort of the staff.
“I love the way Rab’s is run, I believe the protocols have the public in mind and they’re doing everything possible,” she said. “They clean the lanes every minute, they’re really keeping up with it and being diligent and we appreciate it.”
Twelve-year-old Jeremy Vasquez, who’s been bowling since he was five, was equally thrilled to fire off some strikes on Monday.
“I’m happy, I’ve been waiting since quarantine,” said the eight-grader from South Beach. “I was here on the last day before they closed and I’m excited to be back.
“When my mom told me, I was so excited,” he added. “I was sad, I wanted to come here everyday…it was like taking part of my life away.”
Veteran bowlers like Rob Butler opted to play in New Jersey until the restrictions were lifted — but it just wasn’t the same.
“This is home for most of us,” said the 40-year-old Great Kills resident. “It’s a beautiful place and I’m happy to be here.
“The community, the conditions, the lanes, it’s all different,” he added. “This is a big deal for us, I’ll be here as many times as possible.”
New Springville resident Matt Koplowitz reiterated the sentiment.
“It felt like something was missing these last few months,” said Koplowitz. “I didn’t want to have a season in New Jersey, but we didn’t know what to expect…I’m glad to be back.”
Koplowitz noted that playing with a mask wasn’t much of an issue either.
“It’s not a problem, just something to get used to as the season goes on,” he explained. “I feel safe, just happy to be back now.”
NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET
While the return to play is a welcome sign, Wilkinson acknowledges that small businesses, including his own, will need continued support from the government to continue operating effectively.
“It’s been draining on the small business community,” admitted Wilkinson, who suffered many a sleepless night during the quarantine. “This building isn’t designed to operate at 50% capacity, we need the support of government.
“Patience did start to run thin, there was no revenue stream [for five months],” he added. “Employees couldn’t work, it weighs on you.
“It’s relieving to get to this point,” added Wilkinson. “Hard work pays off.”
Nevertheless, he’s excited to see people in the building once again.
“It’s amazing, we’re in the people business and our mission is to provide an environment for people to get away from everyday life,” said Wilkinson. “To see the smiles on people’s faces is what we live for.
“I get more happiness and joy to see people enjoy what they do in this environment that we created,” he added. “It’s exciting.”