Staff Writer

That familiar sound of a bowling ball hurtling down the lane and crashing into 10 pins was music to Marry Ann Ross’ ears on a recent September afternoon. It’s been a long, hard road navigating through the Covid-19 pandemic for the general manager of Kin Pin Bowling & Entertainment Center in Egg Harbor Township and her staff, but the popular bowling and party destination has been open since early August and is beginning to see things at least progressing toward getting back to normal.

The pandemic forced the business to close from March through early August, and it hasn’t been easy for even a longtime area business to make it through that kind of shutdown.

“We were shut down for six months. It wasn’t easy, but corporate got a couple of loans to be able to keep up with our bills, so that helped. But I don’t know how much longer we could have gone without reopening in early August,” Ross said. “We had regulars and a lot of senior citizens wanted to come back in. Everybody wants to know what our procedures are.”

Like most businesses these days — and perhaps even more important for one like King Pin Bowling — sanitizing surfaces is the name of the game, and King Pin is doing all it can to keep its loyal clientele safe and secure while they enjoy the pastime they love.

“We’re using every other pair of lanes so there is a big gap between people; you have to wear your mask up until you’re bowling; once a month we have a company come in and spray the entire place; and then we also have our own sanitation that we do throughout the day,” Ross said. “All the bowling balls are behind the counter, so we give out the balls and shoes, and when people are done we tell them to leave all their stuff and we come down to the lane and take the balls and shoes and sanitize them again behind the counter. We also clean the whole area as well — the couches, tables and consoles.”

King Pin is almost like a bustling miniature city when things are at their peak, usually in the fall and winter, with dozens of full- and part-time staff needed to keep everything running. The place has a big billiards room, hosts a lot of birthday parties, and also has a bar with a full kitchen menu. However, much of that staff had to be temporarily laid off during the pandemic, and Ross said they are just now starting to bring back some of the staff as needed.

“We’ve had to cut back on staff dramatically because we’re closed two days a week, and on the days we’re open, we don’t open until noon. We’re open Tuesday through Saturday, and when we’re closed we’re having the place sanitized,” she said. “Leagues have cut back but next week we’re starting three leagues. There are a couple that have decided to wait until January to see how things play out. Some are ready to get back to it but some people are scared. Some people don’t want to bring anything home to their husband or wife. We have an older clientele and some of them are afraid of getting sick.”

On the positive side, Ross said she was able to get a much-needed break from the everyday grind of working six days per week, although she’s back to that routine now as things are beginning to ramp up again.

“I took it as a break, myself, because I was here six days a week so it was nice to get a little break. And a lot of our staff was able to get unemployment, but once that ran out they were calling to find out when they could come back. We have a limited crew right now because we’re open 10 or 12 hours a day, so it’s hard to get two shifts of workers in here in 10 hours,” Ross said. “I never left. I was here three days a week (during the shutdown) doing computer work and paying the bills and just trying to keep up with everything. We’ve been open about five weeks now and it’s been getting better each week.

“We just have to get the word out because some people don’t know we’ve opened back up,” she added. “They’ll call and they’re surprised we’ve been open since early August. And the kitchen recently reopened, so that has helped a lot. It was hard to come in here (early on) because you weren’t allowed to have any food or beverages inside, so people would bowl a couple games and they’d be dying of thirst, but we couldn’t give them anything. We had to take everything out of the vending machines and people weren’t allowed to bring in any food or drink, so that was hard.”

As for the future of King Pin Bowling, Ross said she believes the company is past the worst of things and that business will begin to rebound this fall. And if the state government increases the amount of people allowed inside, that will certainly go a long way toward getting King Pin back on track.

“We’re hoping they’ll up the percentage (of people allowed inside) because right now we’re limited in how many lanes we can use. We do have a big capacity, though, so 25 percent still allows for a good amount of people. We figure we can have about 150 people inside throughout the place,” Ross said. “It has been hard because the bills keep coming, so right now we’re just able to pay salaries with what we have coming in. So, we’re hoping they let us have more people come in so we can build from there.”