Bowling alleys, gyms, museums allowed to open for first time in months, while other businesses face uncertain futures

Saturday, September 5, 2020
Fitness enthusiasts happy to see gyms reopen
Fitness enthusiasts say they are happy to see gyms reopen.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Bowling alleys, museums, playgrounds, and indoor fitness centers are allowed to reopen doors under Phase 2.5.

"We know we can keep everyone safe and healthy while they're in our facilities," said Buffaloe Lanes assistant manager Melissa McDaniel.

Staff at Buffaloe Lanes have been waiting for this day, and experiencing steep financial losses.

The owners finished a $700,000 renovation project just six months before the COVID-19 shutdown.

McDaniel said she was in tears back in March while turning off all the lights and cutting off the breakers.

"It (Buffaloe Lanes) has been in the Triangle for 40 years, and six months is just too long for these businesses to try and survive and make it through this," said McDaniel.

While some businesses are ready and eager to turn on the lights, others are waiting until next week to ensure staff is properly trained in the new safety precautions.

Luke Varsamis of Raleigh goes to O2 Fitness in Morrisville. He said it's a good idea to let gyms reopen.

"There are less safe avenues of disease transmission that are open at higher capacities already," Varsamis said. "The gym is important to keep people sane. The more sane people are, the fewer stupid decisions they'll make."

He said he has been jogging and walking and doing pull-ups while waiting to return to the gym.

"It's important. I'm glad we're doing it," he said. "The numbers over the past few weeks have been relatively good, we're seeing drops in 10-20 percent range for a while. It's the very day they're open, and I'm here so it matters at least a little bit to me or I wouldn't have made the time."

Although businesses were allowed to open at 5 p.m. on Friday, some are holding off.

RELATED: Local museums prepare to reopen after months of COVID-19 shutdown

The YMCA of the Triangle plans to welcome back members at most locations Wednesday.

Alexander branch manager Matt Liley said The Y needs more time to get everything ready and train staff.

"It's a pretty robust operation to run a building of this space," said Lilley. "Most of our part-time staff has not been engaged with us since March and so it's going to take a little bit of time to reengage them to make sure they're up on all the protocols."

Some Y facilities will continue offering outdoor gyms for folks who don't feel comfortable being indoors.

Jason Fugleberg is another gym patron happy to get back into the swing at O2 Fitness.

"I've been waiting six months to get back at it, been home working out, doing what I can but nothing like coming to the gym and getting that adrenaline rush," he said. ""I had a stressful day at work, got to come in here, unwind, it's great for the mental aspect and the physical aspect as well.

"Obviously take your safety precautions and wash your hands, spray the equipment down," he added.

Those kinds of safety measures are priorities at fitness centers and gyms.

Michael Tribett, Area Director, of Raleigh Durham O2 Fitness, said safety protocols are rigorous. Some of the measures include operating at 20 percent capacity, having one spray bottle per person, shutting the club down and fogging in the middle of the day and at night and not providing towels. Patrons can use the showers but must bring their own towels and can only use every other locker.

Barbara Webber of Cary was at the playground at Bond Park with her 3-year-old daughter, Logan.

"It's been really rough actually, she has been asking to go to a playground since March," Webber said, "When we came here, she was so excited, it's been hard, been really hard being home that's for sure."

Webber surely felt a sense of relief now that the recreational opportunities for her child have been expanded.

"We'd usually go to a playground, maybe this one or another one nearly day or a museum like those around here," Webber said. "It's great that this stuff is open again; we're so happy it's open again.

"We feel safe that it's outside," she added. "I think it's better, we're better in an outdoor area like this and keeping our distance. To see her run around, she was so happy when we got here. I don't know if I'll ever get her to leave."

Businesses that reopen under Phase 2.5 can operate with 30 percent capacity. But other businesses, which have to remain closed, have questions about their futures.

WATCH: How businesses that must remain closed in Phase 2.5 are responding to the uncertainty of when they might open

As the state officially moved into Phase 2.5 of reopening, several businesses still remain closed, with questions about their future.

"You find yourself trying to pay bills, but (have) no money to pay bills," said Bill Peebles, the owner of Rialto Theatre and Six Forks Cinema in Raleigh.

Peebles was hopeful movie theatres would be included in the next phase of the state's reopening, and questioned the safety logic behind allowing gyms to open while indoor entertainment venues remain shut.

"When the person beside you at the gym is huffing and puffing, you can't convince me they're not putting more particulate into the air than a movie-goer sitting there at rest, watching a movie, and socially distanced," said Peebles.

Both theaters are selling curbside popcorn on Fridays and Saturdays, and there is a GoFundMe set up to assist the Rialto.

"We're at a point now that every dollar I put into the business comes out of my retirement. And I'd just like to eat something more than popcorn in my retirement," said Peebles.

He adds that even though they're closed, his businesses have to deal with several costs.

"I told the manager and assistant manager that I would pay them. That's the right thing to do. We have cut every expense we can. Now it's just maintaining the building. If you turn off the power, bad things happen to the facility itself. You cannot do that. You have to keep pest control up because I don't want a 300-pound rat. You have to keep your internet going so that I can conduct business because one day we will be (opened),and I'd like to have everything in place both to run credit cards and actually have product to show," Peebles said.

He also expressed concern for bars and nightclubs, other industries that must remain closed.

Elizabeth Doran, the President and CEO of the non-profit North Carolina Theatre, said they've lost millions of dollars in revenue due to the pandemic.

"Our staff is about 45 percent of where it was. Our hundreds of artists that we used to hire every few months are not able to be employed," Doran said.

Average crowds range from 1,000 to 2,000 people, and Doran also has to account for the safety of performers who practice and perform in close proximity to each other.

"What we do is so high touch as an art form, people are singing, dancing and acting within six feet of one other. Our artistry is not safe right now. Even if we could bring audiences back, we cannot safely bring our artists back. And so we wait until that is going to be more safe. That does not mean we release our purpose. Again, we can't perform but we can still commune with our community digitally, through community engagement," said Doran, who complimented the work being done by the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in coming up with socially-distanced seating arrangements.

The North Carolina Theatre has canceled productions through the rest of the year and hopes to return in February.

"We will come back. And we will have our sails glowingly pulling us forward. But right now, we're a little bit of a smaller ship so we have to learn how to behave a little bit differently so we can get to that place," Doran said.

If you're interested in donating to the North Carolina Theatre, click here.