When Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that bowling alleys would be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity on Monday, Aug. 24, it ended a five-month shutdown for a number of centers including Farmingdale Lanes. Owned by the LaSpina family, the aforementioned 48-lane Conklin Street business is a part of the five-location Maple Family Centers that is rounded out by Coram County Lanes, Maple Lanes (Rockville Centre), Maple Lanes Countryside (Clearwater, FL) and Jib Lanes in Flushing. Given that patriarch John LaSpina’s involvement with bowling dates back to his being a 12-year-old when his father opened Maple Lanes with two partners in Bensonhurst back in 1960, shutting down for this extended amount of time wasn’t an easy decision to make. But it was one the 72-year-old businessman knew his clan had to do.
“I’m the old guy on the food chain in this family, so I’m the one most reluctant to go places,” he said. “I totally understand how our customers feel. We’re strictly adhering to the 50 percent occupancy. There are some [other bowling alleys] hanging plastic between individual lanes and believing that will suffice and you can fill every lane. We’re just not doing that because I think for the next nine or 10 weeks, we should just be cautious. At the risk of revenue, we’re going to do a wait-and-see. You need to wear your mask, which will keep you safe. And you need to listen to your mother and wash your hands often and use the sanitizer. We have more hand sanitizer than we’ve ever had. We’ve always been good with the Purell on the wall, so that’s nothing new for us.”
He added, “We’re taking the 50 percent business seriously and we’re risking revenue for nine or 10 weeks to make sure everybody is safe. I believe if you have people crammed in and wedged between a few shower curtains from the Dollar Store, you’re only tempting fate and I don’t want to do that. The only one I listen to is Dr. Fauci and go back to the primary message—wear your mask, social distance, wash your hands and pray for the best.”
For the past three months, the LaSpinas cleaned, sanitized and retrofitted all their centers to ensure a safe environment. Among the changes instituted upon opening was required health screenings and temperature checks for all employees prior to all shifts, bowling balls and shoes being sanitized before and after each use, mandatory mask requirements for staff and customers and protective plexi-glass shields positioned at all service counters.
During the moratorium, roughly 180 employees across all five locations were laid off as the family continued to pay tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes as well as other expenses. The elder LaSpina admits it was rough going.
“The challenge is that we are all about being social and social distancing is anathema—it’s the polar opposite of what we do,” he explained. “We have a set of vendors and banks that we communicate with. For the most part, everyone has been willing to work with us. Banks don’t want nonperforming loans, so they’re standing on their heads to make it work. My little company, with five locations—I don’t want to use the word lost, but last year during the time we were closed, we rang up $3 million. That’s $3 million we don’t have and $3 million that we use to pay bills, mortgages, staff and all the things that money is supposed to do. Me and my kids are last on the list—we wait for ours.”
Community support for the LaSpinas has come from customers, fellow business owners and a number of local politicians including Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, Councilman Steven Labriola and Receiver of Taxes Jeffrey Pravato, Assemblyman Joe DeStefano (Coram), Senator Todd Kaminsky (Long Beach) and Assemblywoman Judy Griffin (Rockville Centre).
Saladino, along with Legislator John Ferretti, State Assemblyman John Mikulin, Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand and Hempstead Town Councilman Dennis Dunne held a press conference back on Thursday, Aug. 6 calling for the governor to allow bowling centers to reopen statewide.
“Reopening our bowling centers in a safe and efficient manner is both easy and attainable, and I know that by making common sense adjustments such as requiring bowlers to bring their own equipment, and place hand sanitizers throughout the facility, along with the required social distancing, we can spare bowling alleys from foreclosure,” Pravato said.
“Farmingdale is great because we had lots of important local people come to our aid,” LaSpina said. “They all came and did press conferences for us. We got coverage and got on TV. Local people were concerned for our livelihood.”
With LaSpina’s daughter Theresa LaSpina-McCarthy and son Joe LaSpina working full time in the family business, bowling has played a major role through three generations. It’s been made all the more bittersweet given the fact that Sept. 7 was not only the family’s 60th anniversary in this line of work, but it coincided with what would have been LaSpina’s father’s 112th birthday. While plans were shelved to do a Good Old Days promotion that included bowling and hot dogs for 60 cents, LaSpina is looking optimistically to the future based on the values his company has been built on.
“You come back to core values—cleanliness, value, good customer service—that always beats the trends,” he said. “My father instilled in me to always take care of people and when you do that, people will take care of you. After 60 years, here we are, back at Day One. We don’t know what the future will bring. I’m hopeful there will be a vaccine and this thing will pass. It’s my hope that I am half the man my father was when he was facing tough, unknown times with a smile, smarts and a commitment to the investment he made in a sport that many love; even in these uncertain COVID times.”
Visit www.maplelanes.com to find out more about any of the five Maple Family Centers.