LUMBERTON — Some owners of local businesses met Wednesday at the Lumberton Bowling Center to voice concerns to the chairman of the N.C. Republican Party about the effects of COVID-19 restrictions during a round table discussion.
Members of the N.C. Republican Party have traveled across the state to gather feedback from business owners who have been adversely affected by virus restrictions and to give them a platform for sharing their stories, said Tim Wigginton, NCGOP spokesperson.
State Rep. Brenden Jones and N.C. Sen. Danny Britt Jr., both Republicans, stopped by the bowling alley before the meeting started to show their support.
“We’re one of the poorest districts in the state. We need the income, we need to get back to work,” Jones said.
Jones, whose district covers parts of Columbus and Robeson counties, also suggested that Cooper make a trip to Robeson County to see for himself the need for help among the business community and county residents.
“We’ve got a lot of businesses that are going under. We’ve got a lot of business owners that are going under,” Britt said. “We’ve got a lot of people who are suffering and struggling because Gov. Cooper continues with these orders that are not opening our state back up.”
Dory MacMillan, a spokesperson for Cooper’s office, said the governor’s highest priority is the health and safety of state residents.
“His cautious approach to easing restrictions and the mandatory mask mandate have saved lives and prevented North Carolina’s health system from being overrun like in other states, some of which have had to go backward and reimpose restrictions. The governor is working to get help to small businesses and to workers who are unemployed. We can slow the spread, boost our economy and get all businesses open if people will wear their masks and social distance,” MacMillan said.
One business that has suffered from restrictions brought on by the virus is the Lumberton Bowling Center.
“It’s just been too long,” said Scott McLean, bowling center owner.
His family and employees have felt the effects of restrictions that keep bowling alleys closed, he said. McLean worries about the financial impacts the business will see in the next six months, as bills continue to pour in.
McLean said the bowling alley has lost nearly $500,000 in revenue since it was forced to shut down because of Cooper’s Executive Order 120 that closed the doors of bowling alleys on March 25.
Special Superior Court Judge James Gale blocked Coopers’ order and allowed bowling alleys to reopen July 8 with strict guidelines for customer safety, after a lawsuit was filed against the governor by Bowling Proprietors Association of the Carolinas and Georgia.
On July 14, a temporary hold was placed on the ruling by the Supreme Court, forcing bowling alleys to follow Cooper’s orders and close their doors yet again.
McLean employs 21 people, of which only four have been brought back to work.
“I don’t know how many more months I can hang on,” McLean said.
The business owner said if Cooper would set a date for the reopening of bowling alleys, he would have something to work with, or plan for.
Instead, McLean continues to operate, as other businesses do, in a state of “limbo.”
Nancy Schenk, who owns B&B Bowling Lanes on Fort Bragg Road in Fayetteville, also attended the meeting. Schenk’s bowling alley is in the same association as McLean’s, and she was involved in the lawsuit filed against Cooper’s order to keep bowling alleys closed.
Data from the governor’s office that supports the idea that the virus spreads more easily in a bowling alley than another area such as a restaurant was not provided when asked for by the superior court judge, she said.
“We have the space that other people don’t,” Schenk said of bowling alleys.
That space would allow them to observe social distancing guidelines, she said.
Schenk also said she sees no difference in using a bowling ball or going to a restaurant to use plates and utensils. Each of the items are to be sanitized and are used in communal settings.
Emerge Gymnastics, on Peterson Drive in Lumberton, continues operations on a limited scale, so as to observe social distancing guidelines while offering summer camps, said Shelley Foil, who owns the gymnastics center and Lumberton Drug Company with her husband, Jason Foil.
Summer camps, which began on June 8, serve only six to seven children per class. The center had hoped to serve twice the amount before COVID-19 came about, Foil said.
As a result, the gymnastics center is earning half of what it hoped, she said. Attempts at hosting virtual camps were not as successful as planned.
Activities provided by bowling alleys, the gymnastics center and other small businesses provide a sense of normalcy and routine that parents, children and county residents need, she said. And those small businesses need the customers to survive.
“We are more invested in keeping people safe, I feel like, than corporations,” Foil said of small businesses.