Struggling bowling alleys sue Whitmer for shutdown

Struggling bowling alleys sue Whitmer for shutdown

A group of Michigan bowling alleys and roller rinks is suing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for compensation for losses after they were forced to close.

Bowling alley owners and other recreational venues that have been struggling to survive under statewide COVID-19 restrictions are looking to the courts for relief.

A Flint-based roller rink and four Michigan bowling alleys from across the state are suing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for losses they suffered after being forced to close by the governor’s executive orders and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS, restrictions.

On behalf of the five members of the lawsuit, the Independent Bowling & Entertainment Centers Association, or IBECA, hired attorney David Kallman – who has represented several groups challenging Michigan health orders, including successfully representing Owosso barber Karl Manke.

The venues argue the health orders constitute “taking of Plaintiffs’ property without just compensation,” according to the complaint, and are seeking damages from Whitmer, the MDHHS, and former-Director Robert Gordon.

“It is long past time to allow all businesses to safely open and serve their clients and the public,” IBECA Executive Director Scott Bennett said in a news release. “Our members deserve fair and just compensation from the state of Michigan.”

Across Michigan, bowling alleys and similar venues have long been warning that the state’s complicated and confusing restrictions are leading many to shut their doors permanently.

One example is Hartfield Lanes in Berkley, which has called the city’s downtown its home for more than 60 years. Now, the building is up for sale.

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Jeff Hartfield Jr., whose grandfather started opened the bowling alley, told the Detroit Free Press. “We’ve been shut down eight of 11 months, and I’m going into my personal savings to keep the business going.”

Many venues rely on food, events and bar service to turn a profit – a source of revenue taken off the table by renewed restrictions.

“We hope to never lose anything. We worked hard all of our lives to build this,” said Heidi Wrathel and Penni Kruger of Liberty Lanes. “But there is always that risk, hanging over our heads.”

“We’ve been wearing face masks, sanitizing, distancing, being super careful with everything in the kitchen, having all our tables six feet apart,” they added. “Plus, our league bowlers are not picking bowling balls off the rack or renting shoes – league bowlers come in with their own equipment. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Policymakers in Michigan should look to loosening restrictions on small businesses like bowling alleys, where social distancing and health precautions are easily implemented.

“We’re just holding on for dear life around here. You just have to pray and hope that everything ends up okay,” Heidi and Penni said.

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