Movie theaters, bowling alleys reopen with mixed feelings

Published 8:41 am Thursday, December 24, 2020

NILES — The low growl as a bowling ball heads for the pins can be heard again at Joey Armadillo’s, but owner Mark Godsey worries it will not be enough to pick up the spare on a difficult year.

With the “cautious re-opening” announced on Dec. 14 from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, indoor entertainment without concessions was reopened, with movie theaters and bowling alleys a part of the named indoor entertainment businesses.

For two Niles businesses, Joey Armadillo’s, located at 2732 S. 11th St., and Wonderland Cinema, located at 402 Front St., it meant operating was again allowed in a limited capacity. The limitations on re-opening mean both Godsey and Wonderland Cinema’s co-owner, Scott Moore, have mixed feelings on the move from the state.

Less than a mile north of the Indiana state line, Godsey at Joey Armadillo’s is having a difficult time seeing the positives in the MDHHS’ cautious reopening.

“She did us no favors,” Godsey said of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

For Joey Armadillo’s, the order means all bowlers must stay masked during their visit. It also holds the business to lower capacities and a guideline to one household of no more than six people or one person per bowling lane.

“[Concessions] are a huge part for people who want to bowl,” Godsey said.

The sweeping closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have hurt the bowling alley. Joey Armadillo’s is located so close to the Indiana state line, where just south restaurants, bowling allies and movie theaters operate with fewer restrictions. This year, he has had half of a bowling league leave to take up residence at a bowling alley in South Bend.

“That’s my bread and butter,” he said.

“We were open for one and a half to two months,” Godsey said of the year, since closures began in March. “We were still operating at 40 percent of what we were last year, and starting to pay our bills. I’ve been closed for seven months out of this year.”

Joey Armadillo’s has been advertising its carry-out specials on social media, but on Monday, Godsey said the bowling alley’s restaurant had zero orders.

“It’s Christmas week, and people are spending money on gifts,” Godsey said. “It’s not been great.”

In March, Godsey said Joey Armadillo’s was able to get some aid money to get through the first shutdown.

“I was able to catch up after we opened back up, but this time I don’t know,” Godsey said.

In March, Godsey estimated his food loss, including perishable meat and craft beer, to be around $9,000.

“We were at the height of our season,” Godsey said. “This month and March are the heights [of his business]. By March or April, I’ve saved money to get through the summer.”

While Godsey awaits another update that he hopes will allow his operation to return to something closer to normal, he has been trying to pay forward some of the support he has gotten from the community to businesses around him that are struggling too.

“People have donated me money, and I gave to Harvest Café, Rise-n-Shine Café, Good Anuff Pub, Jim’s Smokin’ Café, The Plaza Restaurant and Jay’s Lounge,” Godsey said. He said he thinks he has enough to pay forward a couple more. One of the orders from Harvest Café went to frontline workers at the Spectrum Health Lakeland in Niles.

Godsey is frustrated with what he sees as inconsistencies in the businesses that can be open while others cannot in Michigan. He sees casino restaurants and bars being able to reopen and advertise to customers.

“We are paying for our liquor licenses. We are paying for our insurance. My property taxes didn’t go away,” Godsey said.

Closer to the heart of downtown Niles, Wonderland Cinema will be reopening its doors to patrons on Saturday.

“One of the best things about seeing the movie is having popcorn and your favorite snacks, but at least it gives people the opportunity to get out, try something different and see something on the big screen that was meant to play there,” Moore said.

For moviegoers who were hoping for a Christmas Day showing, Moore said he had given his employees the holiday off officially earlier this year.

On Saturday, Wonderland Cinema will have six movies showing, a mix of previously released and newly released movies including “Freaky,” “The Croods: A New Age,” “Monster Hunter,” “Fatale,” Wonder Woman 1984” and “News of the World.”

Each theater will still be limited in its capacity, with just 20 percent of seating utilized, and patrons will have to continue to wear masks.

Moore said the theater will be working on radius seating, instead of just seating every other row. This way, patrons have six feet in every direction from where they sit. Groups of up to six may sit together in the theater if they arrive together.

“You can’t purchase more than six tickets at one time, that’s down from 10,” Moore said.

Moore said the theater is working on other ways to give a cinematic experience to those who have missed out on it through the shutdowns this year.

“We’re renting out private showings,” Moore said. “[Patrons] can rent an auditorium with one screen for two hours for $60, if they want to bring a Blu-ray or DVD, or play video games on a system.”

Another option Wonderland Theater is offering is private showings of the new movies available.

“If you want to watch ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ as a family, it’s more because we have to pay the film companies,” Moore said.

For a private showing of a newer release, for six or less people in the theater, the cost increases to $100.

Moving forward, Moore hopes the rest of the “cautious reopenings” give them a little more room to expand business again.

“I feel great. I feel excited. I feel sad,” Moore said, about the current measures.