By Jen Heller Meservey
Keeping bowling center staff and customers safe starts with keeping an eye on the weather, according to Maria Giambrone, personnel and facility manager at Northern Lights Recreation in Harbor Springs, Mich. “We live in an area that has an average of 120 inches of snow annually,” she explained. “We use a boiler and heated sidewalks to keep them clear all winter long. The sidewalks are clear even when it is snowing, which eliminates slip and fall incidents leading up to the building. It also gives an additional clean area for customers to ‘stomp off’ accumulated snow or moisture from their shoes before entering the building.”
At Sleeping Giant Lanes in Helena, Mont., Owner Michelle Anderson said she also takes measures to keep snow and moisture out of the building. “We have a heavy traffic center and we live in Montana, a state of snow, rain and icy weather,” she said. “We have signs on chairs near the doors asking all customers to remove their shoes at the door when the weather is bad.” Anderson admitted that it can be difficult to enforce this rule. “Getting non-bowlers (and even some seasoned bowlers) to take off their shoes is sometimes not so easy,” she said. “It’s tough to educate people on the hazards of snow-covered shoes in a bowling center. We hate to have signs all over, or to stop people that try to get through with snowy shoes, but it is necessary for the safety of all of our bowlers.”
Loralee Miller, co-owner and general manager of Miller’s Recreation in Laurium, Mich., said she focuses on clearing the snow from around the building. “We shovel the steps constantly in the winter months, as well as salt the sidewalks,” she said. “We use runners to soak up excess water as to not have wet floors in the bowling area.”
The staff at Oak Tree Lanes and Sports Bar in Diamond Bar, Calif., may not have to worry about snow, but Owner Paul Lee said they still work hard to keep the center clean and safe. “We make every effort to keep all walkways and traffic areas clean of any spills or potentially hazardous items,” he said. “We have a specific position called Customer Service that is trained to constantly monitor the entire facility for these kinds of situations.”
Chad Meyer, owner of Garden Center Lanes in Alexandria, Minn., said he agrees that training the staff is important to bowler safety. “Very simply put, our staff is taught to be aware of their surroundings,” he said. “This means that they are watching the customers as they bowl.” Of course, Meyer said that cleaning is still essential. “Probably the most important part of that is keeping the bowling concourse and bowling lanes clean and dry,” he said.
Signage is another way to help keep a bowling center safe, according to Giambrone. “We use signs to keep customers informed about unsafe bowling practices,” she said. These practices include everything from wearing bowling shoes outside to placing hands inside the ball return. Anderson said that placing signs in strategic areas is important. “We have stop signs on the foul light covers, warning stickers at the foul line and a warning sticker on the ball returns about keeping your hands out,” she said.
Bowling centers can be especially hazardous to children, which is why supervision is important, according to Leslie Huikko, owner of Huikko’s Bowling and Entertainment Center in Buffalo, Minn. “The staff at the counter are always keeping their eyes and ears open to make sure there isn’t any horseplay or bullying going on, so everyone can have a safe and enjoyable time,” he said. Lee said he has designated staff on hand to supervise children. “Whenever we have birthday parties, we assign a party host to keep track of any needs the party may have,” he explained. “Our center is open and all areas can be monitored from our front desk. Our managers also consistently walk to each department to make sure everything is running fine.”
Giambrone also uses an open floor plan to her advantage when children are on the premises. “We have as open a floor plan as possible, so it is difficult for children to get lost in the facility,” she said. Video cameras make it even easier for the staff to keep eye on their young customers, according to Giambrone. “Our video camera system is constantly recording what is going on in the center,” she said.
Anderson said that her center has a special area where children can play. “We have a playroom with an attendant available during league if parents want their kid(s) to be in there,” she said. “We have a big window so they can check on them easily.” Anderson said that many regular bowlers like to bring their children along, which brings back fond memories for her. “I spent a lot of time at a bowling center in my youth (definitely not a bad life),” she said. “Back then they called us ‘bowling brats.’ Sleeping Giant Lanes is their second home. They are pretty comfortable here, my grandchildren included. They are fourth generation bowling brats!”
While visitation has been down for most bowling centers since 2008, Giambrone said that things are looking up. “I do see improvement in the economy as more people are again visiting the area,” she said. “Our numbers for 2013 were the best in five years, and we have seen further improvements in 2014.”
Miller said she has seen some changes in her center’s visitation this year. “Miller’s has been expanding its kitchen and menu quite a bit in the last few years, and we average several hundred regular eaters,” she explained. “Overall our annual visitation remains stable, but a shift has been noticed. Bowling, as well as alcohol consumption, has been decreasing while our restaurant customers have been increasing.”
Anderson said that visitation at her center is steadily improving. “We are up for league bowlers this year, and our busy season is just starting,” she said. “So far so good. We’re up!” Anderson said she’s happy to see some familiar faces finally returning to the lanes. “We’ve had a lot of people who used to bowl coming back,” she said. “It’s nice to see.”