Terry Pryor said when he reopened his Archery Custom Shop, 7240 W. Madison St., on June 2 his customers were “tickled to death.”
Jessica Luciano reported that her summer day camp sessions sold out after she opened Creativita, 7512 Madison St., on June 14.
Drew Stutz reopened Circle Bowling Lanes, 7244 Circle, Friday, June 10 and that the volume of customers was “a little more than we expected,” and added, “That weekend we broke even financially.”
Dexter Cura, who reopened Escape Factor, 7228 Madison St., on June 26, said, “Generally people are excited that we are open. However, we know that there is still a lot of apprehension.”
All four Forest Park businesses have several things in common. They are all small, locally owned businesses. They all host some kind of physical activity — target practice on an archery range, bowling, creating art or trying to “escape” from a room by using hidden clues. They were locked down during the crisis and are back in business to one degree or another under phase four of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The excitement of the owners of the four businesses is tempered by a great deal of uncertainty. Cura has observed, for example, that potential customers are doing a kind of risk/benefit analysis and some are still apprehensive about venturing out of the house.
Marty Considine, the day manager at Circle Lanes, pointed out that at least three things are out of the control of business owners: what the virus will do, how Pritzker will respond, and how willing customers are to resume their normal activities even if the staff at each place is following CDC guidelines.
Stutz, for example, listed the adaptations Circle Lanes has made to keep patrons healthy. There’s plexiglass shielding customers from the staff member behind the counter. Every other alley is blocked off to insure separation. Only the balls on the ball return can be used on each alley and each ball together with everything in each “pit” is sanitized after each group leaves.
Pryor is taking the same kinds of measures in his archery shop but added that a customer’s chance of catching the virus in a small, low volume space like his is small to begin with. In fact, he believes that he should have been able to remain open all the way through the shut down for those same reasons.
In addition to CDC recommendations Escape Factor is now staggering the room usage times so that every group that enters is isolated from each other. Cura has also put air cleaners as well as hand sanitizers in each of the escape rooms.
Luciano is so concerned about health that she is still following phase 3 guidelines at Creativita. During the shutdown they provided a delivery service for pottery, canvas, wood, board and mosaic kits. Since June 14, she has reduced the number of tables at her summer camps during the day to allow at least a six foot space between each child and locks the front door when camp is in session. That’s in addition to wearing face masks and hand washing.
From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Creativita is open for pick-ups. Otherwise group reservations are limited to two-hour increments for weeknights and for weekends with an hour in-between each reservation for cleaning and sanitizing.
Circle Lanes and Creativita did get federal PPP loans which helped. Pryor did not lay off any staff, because he doesn’t have any. Luciano is having her adult children meet her staffing needs during the summer but after that she doesn’t know. Cura was able to rehire all three of his employees. Stutz invited all his former staff members to return but for now all each one is getting is one shift a week, because the bowling alley is only open Friday through Sunday.
Each business is adapting, often creatively, to the unprecedented situation they are in, but all agree that this way of doing business is not sustainable for the long run, and not everyone was hopeful about what the situation will be in September, let alone a year from now.
Cura seemed optimistic about the future, as evidenced by Escape Factor opening a new escape room, Ghost in The Graveyard, sometime in August.
Pryor doesn’t seem to be worried about the future of his business based on the response of his customers since his reopening and because he has a pretty secure niche in the region’s archery business.
At Circle Lanes, the attitude seems to be “we’ll see.” With so many variables at play which are out of his control, Stutz said it’s basically one day at a time. Considine added that if being open Friday through Monday works out, they might open on Thursday and so forth. Right now they are not placing bets on the future, especially because bowling leagues are their “bread and butter,” and no one can predict what the fall will bring.
“The real question is what happens next,” said Luciano. “I am really worried for fall. We have decided that after August, we will close our doors to the public and focus on delivery and virtual events only until things feel safer. I’m not sure exactly what that will look like, nor how we will make enough money to survive, but we are going to try our best.”
Luciano concluded her interview with the Review with these words: “I think we provide a valuable service…at least that is what our customers tell us. So that positive feedback keeps us going. But I am tired. And I am worried. I see people not taking things as serious or being as safe as I think maybe they should be. And collectively these actions will hurt us all, if not make us sick too.
“It’s time to start thinking about others and keep everyone safe and healthy with these simple things. As a business owner I guess it is a little counter intuitive, and against my financial best interest. However, as a human I cannot justify making a couple dollars today if I am putting people at risk.”