Small businesses have struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic, and bowling alleys have been among the hardest hit—including a beloved local icon in Tacoma’s Proctor District.
Chalet Bowl is the oldest bowling center in Washington. Originally opened as North End Alleys in 1941, the landmark was purchased by Reggie and Nancy Frederick in 1984. (Nancy passed away in 2017.) Reggie’s son and daughter-in-law, Billy and Alyson Frederick, bought into Chalet Bowl in 2006, and business was going strong until 2020 rolled around.
“We had our best season ever in 2019,” said Billy Frederick. “In 2020 during the pandemic, our income was less than half of the previous year.” Fortunately, that banner season ensured the Fredericks had a cash surplus when the pandemic shut their doors in March 2020. Their first concern was the welfare of their 10 full- and part-time employees. The Fredericks immediately paid out all remaining vacation time and sick leave and lined up jobs for out-of-work staff at the Safeway store across the street.
Assistance and resources eased the strain
To say the Fredericks were resourceful during the months-long shutdown would be a huge understatement. They immediately got to work to keep the business afloat amid two full-stop closures and some of the harshest restrictions of any industry affected by the pandemic.
- One week after the closure, the Fredericks talked with their lender and arranged for six months of loan forgiveness.
- Billy Frederick joined other members of the Washington State Bowling Proprietors Association on weekly Zoom sessions to share ideas, strategies and tips on applying for aid. Speaking with other operators who knew exactly what they were dealing with was a big help, Frederick said.
- When the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County and Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber began their series of COVID-19 Business Resource and Information Calls, Chalet Bowl was in the house. “The first two months of calls were a lifesaver for us,” Frederick said.
- The Fredericks also took advantage of small-business aid. They applied for and received two Working Washington Small Business (WWSB) Emergency Grants. “That first $10,000 grant helped pay for months of rent and various utility bills,” Frederick said. A round-four WWSB Emergency Grant was a lifeline when a major refrigerator and freezer needed to be replaced.
- The business also benefited from assistance offered through Pierce County, including a Small Business Relief Loan Program grant, a COVID-19 Adaptation Grant that reimbursed up to 50 percent of all expenses related to COVID-19 safety practices, rental assistance and a 2021 Rollback Relief Grant. They also received free personal protective equipment provided by Pierce County Emergency Management.
“We took advantage of everything that was available, and appreciated all of it so much,” Frederick said. “We still had bills. Everything helped.”
Adapting to change
The Fredericks also took advantage of the initial closure to make improvements and put safety measures into place. “We had no idea when we’d reopen, so we always had to be prepared,” he said.
They remodeled the interior, created a new configuration for social distancing and installed plexiglass barriers throughout. When they reopened at limited capacity for the second time in February, only club bowling was allowed.
“We were able to fill to 25 percent capacity Monday through Friday evenings,” Frederick said. “We made the best of it, and the customers who came back were grateful for measures we’d put in place to keep them safe and comfortable.” As more restrictions were lifted, Chalet welcomed back individual and family bowlers. As of the second week of July, they’re back to regular hours and full-capacity operations.
Summer is typically the slow season for bowling alleys, so Frederick doesn’t expect things to get “back to normal” for a few months. “September will really be the time to gear up,” he said. But he still worries. “You never know about people’s habits. Are they going to come back even though we’re at 100 percent capacity? I hope so.”