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Court Ruling Opens Lanes At Wilmington Bowling Alleys

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jul 9, 2020
Cardinal Lanes on Shipyard Boulevard opened its doors Thursday to customers. (Photo courtesy of Ron Schnell)
There were a few customers ready to bowl at Cardinal Lanes Shipyard in Wilmington when the business opened its doors Thursday for the first time in about four months. 

Cardinal Lanes Shipyard, owned by Ron Schnell, was able to open because of a favorable outcome this week in a lawsuit against Gov. Roy Cooper. The lawsuit was filed by a bowling membership association that Cardinal Lanes belongs to, along with other bowling alley establishments across the state.

On Tuesday, a judge ruled that bowling alleys are able to open despite Cooper's announcement that they would remain closed during the second part of the state's phased economic reopening plan.

Those establishments were slated to be included in phase two, but when the governor announced plans in May, only some businesses, such as restaurants, barbershops and salons, were able to reopen.

Other businesses, not just bowling alleys, were left out of the plan, including bars and gyms. Legislative measures since then to reopen some of those closed businesses have been unsuccessful after being vetoed by the governor.

"We felt unfairly treated," Schnell said of the bowling alley businesses. "Because why can you open up a restaurant and people sit in a restaurant ... but you can't sit in a bowling center, which is typically four to five times bigger than any restaurant? We can socially distance and do all the things they were asking other businesses to do as easy or easier than anybody else."

The ruling by the judge, however, is being appealed by the governor.

"Hospitalizations and positive cases are reaching record highs while the Governor works to get schools open and prevent the state from going backward on restrictions. The Governor will immediately appeal this ruling that harms both of these efforts," a governor's office spokesperson on Tuesday stated in response to the court ruling.

But Schnell is hoping for another good outcome for bowling alleys in the appeal process next week.

"Hopefully on appeal, it will go our way. We're really not sure yet," he said. "We just feel like it's important to open the doors ... waiting four months is a pretty long time. We're excited to be open and we're hoping that our customer base will be excited for us too."

​The business, at 3907 Shipyard Blvd., is opening with limited hours for play from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Other Wilmington bowling alleys are also welcoming bowlers back.

Cardinal Lanes Beach Bowl, 7026 Market St., is opening at 10 a.m. Friday, according to the alley's Facebook page. The business owner was not immediately available to give details.

Ten Pin Alley owner James Grago said his business would open to bowling at 11 a.m. Saturday and could follow its normal bowling business hours, although the hours hadn't yet been finalized as of Thursday morning.

Grago and his wife, Margaret, have been the owners of the business located at 127 S. College Road since  the fall of 2015.

The billiards portion of the business will not be open since it wasn't included in the judge's ruling, he said. 

"We're getting phone calls from customers all the time asking if the pool or the bowling [alley] is open," James Grago said. "And when we heard that [the lawsuit was won] we decided that we could open at 50% ... And being closed since March 17 -- that's the date that we closed -- it's a long time."

The business had been working with a skeleton crew at its restaurant, doing take-out orders only since it was forced to close its doors in March, he said.

"We plan on bringing all of our employees back," James Grago said. "We have 40 employees. Due to us having to clean and having to make sure we meet the standards, we're going to bring them all back."

There were, however, guidelines set by the judge -- about 14 different criteria -- that the bowling establishments have to follow, Schnell said.

"You have to have hand sanitizer, you have to social distance, you have to clean the balls and shoes, basically all the things we knew we were going to have to do anyway," Schnell said. 

While being closed, however, Schnell said it provided Cardinal Lanes Shipyard an opportunity to spruce things up in the building, including cleaning and repainting, as well as putting in a new sewer line.

Cardinal Lanes Shipyard normally has about 20 full-time and part-time employees during normal times of business; however, to start, Schnell said he has hired 10 of his employees.

Some bowling establishments in the state are not opening now, he said.

“But we just felt like we needed to let the world know that bowling is back," Schnell said. "For us, we felt that it was important to make a statement, and go ahead and open. Even at half capacity, we probably won't be completely full, but at some point, you have to open the doors."
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