You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Bowling alleys, video arcades, other interactive entertainment venues in central Ohio adapt to pandemic

The Columbus Dispatch logo The Columbus Dispatch 1/14/2021 Patrick Cooley, The Columbus Dispatch
a man standing on a table: Operation manager Eddie Lanham uses an industrial disinfecting machine to clean the carpets at Penn Lanes bowling alley in Delaware on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. In addition to thorough cleaning of lanes, shoes and bowling balls after each group is done, the alley also asks patrons to practice safe health protocols. © Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Operation manager Eddie Lanham uses an industrial disinfecting machine to clean the carpets at Penn Lanes bowling alley in Delaware on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. In addition to thorough cleaning of lanes, shoes and bowling balls after each group is done, the alley also asks patrons to practice safe health protocols.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, central Ohioans can still go bowling, play pinball, pop a few quarters into a video arcade or throw a small axe toward a wooden bullseye.

But such experiences are different than they used to be, as venues and customers adjust to what has become a new normal for bowling alleys, arcade bars and similar establishments throughout central Ohio.

Best bets: 4 fun things to do this weekend in central Ohio

Such venues are surviving, for the most part, but report dwindling revenue as more customers stay home to avoid contracting a disease that’s killed more than 9,800 Ohioans and sickened more than 792,000 since March.

Entertainment venues must abide by the same restrictions governing restaurants and other businesses, which require mask use and bar large groups. Bowling alleys closed lanes, and arcade bars removed games to help customers stay at least 6 feet apart.

Owners of these establishments list a plethora of additional precautions.

“We make sure that people do not put bowling balls back on racks,” said Jennifer Hinkle, co-owner of Penn Lanes in Delaware. “We sanitize everything, including shoes, before it comes back and gets reissued.”

Plastered on the alley’s front door are multiple signs reminding bowlers to keep their distance and wear facemasks, and Penn Lanes bought special equipment to sanitize surfaces and recirculate air.

“From a protocol standpoint, we’re constantly monitoring people wearing masks — that’s the biggest issue,” said co-owner Frank Hinkle, Jennifer’s husband.

a person standing next to a train station: Frank and Jennifer Hinkle bought Penn Lanes bowling alley in Delaware in 2019 and spent much of the past year renovating it and adding pandemic health protections. © Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Frank and Jennifer Hinkle bought Penn Lanes bowling alley in Delaware in 2019 and spent much of the past year renovating it and adding pandemic health protections.

Venues adjusted to pandemic restrictions in numerous other ways, almost all of which involve reducing customer numbers.

Dueling Axes, which has locations Downtown, in New Albany and Las Vegas, even closed for several months during the pandemic.

“We don't fit nicely in one of the categories that the state was putting restrictions on, but heeding the intent of what was happening, we decided to just shut down” in the spring and summer when Gov. Mike DeWine shuttered most nonessential businesses, co-owner Jess Hellmich said.

Otherworld, an interactive arts space on the Far East Side, can accommodate only around 30% of it’s pre-coronavirus capacity, Director of Operations Sam Corlett said.

“We’ve always had experience monitors, but now they also make sure groups are not traveling with more than 10 people,” she said. “And I think what they do a lot of times, unfortunately, is make sure people are wearing their masks.”

Otherworld’s cafe is also closed for the time being, Corlett said.

Establishments like Dueling Axes and Capital Axe Throwing, which is located on the Far North Side near Worthington, separate parties with plastic partitions between lanes and put extra time between groups to allow for cleaning. 

“Before we were combining groups” into a single axe-throwing lane, Marketing Director Mayra Aburto said. “Now every group gets their own lane.”

Both businesses said customers are still coming.

“Group sizes are significantly smaller,” Hellmich said. “But there's been consistent interest in people wanting and needing to get out and do something interactive.”

The venues now see more couples and families, rather than big groups of friends, Columbus Axe Throwing General Manager Benjamin Zirkes said.

“It’s definitely a different customer base,” he said “The previous year, it was a little more adventure seekers. We also had a lot more corporate groups, and obviously those groups are not coming in as much anymore.”

Penn Lanes still hosts high school bowling leagues, but can no longer allow spectators, which the Hinkles said is a significant hit to their business.

The change also required adjustments on the part of bowlers' families.

But the biggest challenge is the statewide 10 p.m. curfew, Frank Hinkle said. Prior to the pandemic, the alley was open until 11 p.m. or midnight on the weekends to accommodate the crowds.

“The Friday, Saturday and Sunday night crowds are typically where we generate most of our income,” Frank Hinkle said.

Arcade Superawesome, an arcade lounge attached to Sideswipe Brewing Company’s taproom on the West Side, removed several of its arcades to ensure customers didn’t stand too close together.

“Before the pandemic, we probably had 30 machines in there total,” said John Geiger, owner of Arcade Superawesome. “We went down to only six.”

The lounge removed the cup holders from its arcades to discourage patrons from drinking while playing, which would have violated the ban on standing in bars and restaurants. And staff members encourage customers to play only single player arcades to keep people from mingling outside of their social groups.

Such restrictions have taken a toll.

Old North Arcade only sees a fraction of its normal customers, General Manager Cheyanne Peck said, noting that the 10 p.m. curfew and alcohol ban robbed the bar of its most lucrative hours.

“Between 8 and 8:30 p.m. we get a decent rush of people in, but then we have to kick everyone after an hour or so,” Peck said. “On a Friday, we would get probably about 300 people total (before the pandemic). I would say now on a Friday night, we probably get about 50.”

The bar is making enough to keep the lights on, but Peck acknowledged that it’s tight.

While a handful of restaurants and bars have thrived selling carryout meals, venues like bowling alleys and arcade bars have more limited options to increase revenue.

“People still expect the prices they were paying back in 1980,” said Geiger, owner of Arcade Superawesome. “It's a razor-thin (profit) margin in a good year.”

Restrictions also preclude the lounge from hosting pinball tournaments, a lucrative prospect in a time when pinball is making a comeback, Geiger said.

“Without the events, without that community, it's definitely a loss. This entire year is in the negative,” he said of 2020.

But he remains optimistic that Arcade Superawesome can survive, provided business improves in the next several months.

For customers, the experience just isn't the same.

Holly Koskinen, 37, of Worthington, has patronized bars like Level One Bar + Arcade on the Far North Side several times since the start of the pandemic.

“I want to ensure the places I love stay in business,” she said, but added, “it’s not as vibrant of a scene, as I think some are still worried about coming out.”

Travis Durham, 40, of Pataskala, noted that Arcade Superawesome has fewer pinball machines, but said fewer machines and other restrictions don’t lessen the experience.

“I think everyone is used to wearing a mask and social distancing,” he said. 

However, a handful of regular customers said they just don’t feel safe returning to the venues.

“I'm sure it’s safe, but for me, I haven't felt it’s worth the risk,” said Ryan Vile, 42, of Columbus, who used to be a regular customer of establishments like Arcade Superawesome. “I have elderly family members to think about.”

pcooley@dispatch.com

@PatrickACooley

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Bowling alleys, video arcades, other interactive entertainment venues in central Ohio adapt to pandemic

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from

The Columbus Dispatch
The Columbus Dispatch
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon