| Palm Beach Post
WEST PALM BEACH — Bowling alleys are loud, noisy places. But for much of the past six months, they’ve been quiet enough in Palm Beach County to hear a pin – not the bowling kind – drop.
That changed Tuesday when the county moved into Phase 2 reopening, allowing indoor entertainment venues like bowling alleys and movie theaters to operate for the first time since March while easing restrictions on other businesses that were already open.
At Verdes Tropicana Bowl in suburban West Palm Beach, the sounds of bowling balls rolling down wooden lanes before crashing into a full rack of pins brought joy to the ears of General Manager Brett Herman.
The bowling center, located at 2500 N. Florida Mango Road, had closed March 19 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and hadn’t reopened until 10 a.m., Tuesday.
“We operate 364 days a year with the lone exception of Christmas, so outside of a few hurricanes over the years – we’ve been here 61 years – we’ve never had anything like this where we were shut down for a long period of time,” Herman said. “So it was strange coming into the bowling alley every day and it’s just silent and quiet and there’s nobody here.”
County Mayor Dave Kerner said last week that roughly 95 percent of businesses in the county will be allowed to open under Phase 2.
But most businesses will still be forced to limit the number of customers they can serve at one time. Bowling alleys and movie theaters, for instance, will be restricted to 50 percent capacity. Social distancing guidelines must be followed and a mask mandate remains in place.
Herman said his phone has been ringing non-stop since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an order allowing Palm Beach County to begin Phase 2.
While 64 of the state’s 67 counties moved to Phase 2 in June, hard-hit Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties had remained in Phase 1.
“People have been counting down the days waiting for the announcement that we can reopen, chomping at the bit,” Herman said. “They’re eager about getting back to bowling again.”
But not too eager.
Herman said his bowling alley has hired a cleaning service and instituted other policies to allay fears and keep customers safe. But he said it may take more time before the hesitancy expressed by some of his customers is overcome.
“We hold safety to the highest regard, but I’m sure there are going to be people who say I don’t feel safe until there’s a vaccine or more time passes,’ Herman said. “I anticipate there will be a little lag time before we get back to some semblance of normalcy.”
Full capacity is still not full capacity
Under Phase 2, restaurants are permitted full capacity seating outdoors and can provide bar service, but must remain at 50 percent capacity indoors.
At a place like Ravish in Lantana, where the main dining room is an open-sided patio that leads to a fully open-air patio, Phase 2 does little to boost actual occupancy, says owner Lisa Mercado.
“Once you factor in the social distancing, full capacity is not full capacity,” says Mercado, whose comfort pub classics have earned Ravish a loyal clientele.
During the pandemic, Mercado says she spent more than $30,000 dollars on sanitizing the restaurant, from installing air scrubbers with ultraviolet light technology to hiring a sanitation service to fog-disinfect the place weekly. But while these measures have helped with consumer confidence, Mercado says she still lost “tens of thousands of dollars” in potential revenue when several weddings and showers canceled their events at Ravish.
She says those who book events are told the restaurant is not allowed to seat more than 10 to a table.
“People say, ‘That’s not really a party,’ but I don’t break the law,” she says. “I’m not going to put anyone at risk. We’ve had nobody sick here and we want to keep it that way.”
She says she is encouraged by the dropping numbers of positive cases and believes they will lead to a turnaround in business.
Tuesday marked the 10th consecutive day that the rate of positive cases from tests reported in Palm Beach County remained below 5 percent.
“As the numbers are dropping, you are getting people who are going to go out and socialize more,” says Mercado. “On a daily basis I’m hearing customers say, ‘Yours was the last restaurant we went to before the shut down and you’ll be the first one we go to now.’”
Gyms return to full occupancy – in theory
Gyms, limited to 50 percent capacity before Tuesday, are back to full occupancy.
At least on paper.
Most gyms have seen precipitous drops in visits since the pandemic broke out and, like restaurants, social distancing protocols impact capacity.
Corey Hargreaves, the owner of Fitness 4 Everybody in Palm Beach Gardens, said he will gradually bring back fitness classes and child care services, that were suspended during Phase 1, as people start to return.
“There’s a lot of people that are just very fearful,” Hargreaves said. “As we’re moving into opening up, it’s a good thing because it also brings down that fear level. I think people will still be cautious, which we all need to be. That’s something we need to not lose, because we don’t want to have anybody get sick, and we also don’t want to be getting closed down again.”
In Wellington, Resilient Fitness owner Cheryl Love said she’s happy to be able to open up to full capacity now, but she didn’t notice much difference on Tuesday.
“Nothing really has changed because most of the people coming back are here on a regular basis (already,)” she said.
Love said her boutique-style gym, that offers personal training and nutrition and has a Cross-Fit gym connected, has about 1,000 members. During Phase 1, when gyms were allowed to work at 50 percent capacity, Resilient Fitness was scheduling appointments for 15 or so individuals to be in the gym at once. She said it’s been a steady stream since then of her loyal gym goers getting back to their regular schedules.
She considers herself lucky because most members chose to continue paying dues even when they couldn’t use the gym..
“They said, ‘We want you to stay alive and support you,'” she said. “I’ve been very blessed.”
Some businesses still aren’t open
The Phase 2 reopening is no help to the iconic Palm Beach Dramaworks on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach, said managing director Sue Ellen Beryl.
It’s not financially doable to reopen under social distancing guidelines, and it cannot contract with actors under the Actor’s Equity Association. Beryl said some states with fewer COVID-19 infections are able to hire through the actor’s union, but not Florida.
“We’ve had zero income since March,” Beryl said. “We’re hanging on because we’ve had a really successful 19 years and built up some reserves that we’ve been relying on.”
She said she’s unsure when the theater will reopen.
“We’re in a wait and see mode,” she said.
The Movies of Lake Worth and Movies of Delray Beach will also need some time before opening their doors.
The family-owned theaters, which have been in Palm Beach County for nearly four decades, are working on getting movies from distributors, ordering inventory and implementing Covid-19 safety protocols.
General manager Rochelle Walters said she is excited to open but wants to make sure returning customers feel comfortable.
“We are definitely reopening, it’s just a matter of when,” said Walters, who was forced to lay off staff as the shutdown continued month after month. “What could we do? I don’t think anyone anticipated it going on like this for so long.”
Despite automated ticket machines announcing “Welcome Back to the movies” the Rosemary Square AMC remained shuttered Tuesday with a note saying it was open for deliveries.
No movies were being advertised and next door restaurant Copper Blues was also closed during the lunch hour.
Boston resident Julissa Tavarez, who was one of the few people at Rosemary Square, said she just arrived in town for a week’s stay and was looking for a place to eat.
“I think it’s good that it’s empty. I don’t think anyone should be rushed into anything,” she said. “But I’m hungry.”
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers Elizabeth Balmaseda, Kimberly Miller, Jodie Wagner, Hannah Winston and Kristina Webb contributed to this report.