Spare Time Lanes rejoices in a return to bowling despite coronavirus hurdles


KENNEWICK, Wash. — When Benton County moved into Phase 3 of the ‘Healthy Washington‘ re-opening guidelines, the local entertainment industry received a breath of fresh air. After being forced to close their doors with no end in sight, many small business owners suffered to stay afloat. However, a whole new set of challenges arose once the bowling alley re-opened.

Community members made their way back to the bowling alley where they’d bowled for countless hours, shared meals with their friends and seen their family members grow up. To adjust for the ongoing pandemic, Spare Time Lanes in Kennewick had to make plenty of adjustments.

General manager Rob Watson says that he and his team diligently disinfect bowling balls, shoes and surfaces with cleaning products designed for times like these. Spare Time Lanes has great airflow and circulation, making it safer than smaller indoor businesses. There are signs enforcing a mask requirement all around the business to ensure public safety.

However, not everybody sees it that way.

“There have been several instances of customers being very aggressive; screaming and yelling and saying all sorts of things. We do our best to try to deescalate it,” Watson said. “It can be exhausting to come up with new and innovative ways to tell somebody that they have to wear a mask.”

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Some of the unruly customers were first-time visitors who made a fuss and never returned. In Watson’s experience, some of the individuals who enter the bowling alley without a mask are looking to pick a fight. Though some of the arguments have come from returning customers who he’d never expect to argue with him about enforcing rules.

“It doesn’t matter what the rule is — there’s always a pushback to it. Masking is just crazy because it’s not something that we’re making up. We’re not just arbitrarily enforcing a mask requirement in our building,” Watson said. “Just like our cooks washing their hands, part of duty is to do what the health department asks us to do.”

Small business owners aren’t enforcing mask mandates based on their own political beliefs. State government officials set the ‘Healthy Washington’ guidelines in place to create a pathway to normalcy after shutting businesses down in 2020. For the Spare Time Lanes staff, which is simply trying to return to work after their jobs were shut down, they overcome encounters with unruly customers by sticking together.

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“I’m really lucky here, we’ve built a really solid team and everyone is supportive of each other, so when one person has a confrontation with somebody that’s being belligerent about not wearing a mask, we’re all supportive of them so no one shoulders any of it alone,” Watson said.

Despite the efforts of this small group of customers, Kennewick community members are rallying around Spare Time Lanes in this time of need.

“People are coming out and showing us wonderful support,” Watson said. “From our league bowlers to our weekend regulars that we had before, they were all really excited to come back and they’ve been very supportive.”

Regardless of the hurdles, Spare Time Lanes remains a landmark in local entertainment and community togetherness. Watson remarked on the tremendous growth of the Tri-Cities in the past decade and the incredible unity of people in the area. Spare Time Lanes won’t be the same without the regulars bowlers who lost their lives to COVID-19, but it will provide solace and joy for people in a time when they need it more than ever.


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