ILLINOIS (NEXSTAR) — A group of 180 bowling alley owners sued Governor J.B. Pritzker in a Lee County Circuit Court on Tuesday and asked a judge to spare them from a 50-person capacity limit in the state’s Phase Four public health guidelines.
“This restriction is completely arbitrary, as other businesses far more dangerous than bowling centers, such as gyms, restaurants, tattoo parlors, and hair salons, faced no 50-person cap,” the court filing read.
Citing his emergency powers, Governor Pritzker has said the state’s businesses would remain under Phase Four restrictions, which allow for some expanded indoor activities under capacity limits, until the a vaccine or a treatment for the Coronavirus is developed. Frustrated with the uncertainty of that timeline, lawyers for The Illinois State Bowling Proprietors Association concluded in their complaint that “there is no end in sight to the Governor’s control.”
Pritzker reacted to the latest lawsuit to challenge his executive authority during a press conference in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood on Tuesday morning.
“There are challenges that we all face in this world of a COVID-19 pandemic,” Pritzker said. “And what we’re trying to do is to measure what things are less dangerous, that we can allow more capacity for and what things are more dangerous.”
“There’s nothing political about a focus on one industry or another,” he said. “It’s just all about, ‘Can we maintain safety and health guidance in these kind of settings?'”
According to the court filing, the bowling alley owners agreed to sanitize bowling balls, ramps and shoes between each use, leave every other lane empty to allow for proper social distancing, to scan employees’ temperatures, and implement protocols for workers who have to stay home after exposure to COVID-19. The association says it also spent approximately $40,000 on personal protective equipment for workers at bowling lanes.
State Representative Darren Bailey (R-Louisville) and his attorney Tom DeVore have repeatedly told the public that their recent victory in a Clay County Circuit Court means the entire state is released from Pritzker’s restrictions, and that all of his Coronavirus-related executive orders issued after April 8th, 2020, are effectively null and void. If those sweeping claims were true, then why did an industry association file a lawsuit against those very same Phase Four rules Bailey and his attorney claim are already void?
“The Governor does not agree either with the decision in favor of Mr. Bailey or that the decision in favor of Mr. Bailey applies across the state,” a spokesman for the ISBPA replied on Tuesday. “As a result, our members cannot take comfort in the ruling from Clay County, and we are working within the system to defend their rights and economic interests.”
Gary Haines, owner of the Spare Time Lanes in Decatur, says he’s confident he could safely allow up to 200 people inside his bowling alley, but after closing his doors to customers during the height of the Coronavirus closures and exhausting all of the loan money from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, he fears Pritzker’s Phase Four capacity limits could eventually kneecap his ability to recoup his losses and may ultimately kill his business.
“This is a 50,000 square foot facility, and 50 people in here, it looks like you don’t have anybody in here,” Haines said. “We were supposed to have 50% of capacity, which would allow us to at least survive. And the Governor unfortunately has not allowed that to occur.”
“We’re losing money like crazy,” he said. “Power bills alone run $10,000 to $12,000 a month. And you know, 50 persons at a time is not going to pay those bills.”
While he says the federal PPP loans helped him survive the summer, those funds are gone and his business cannot stay open much longer without some form of relief.
“We pretty much burnt that up by first of June,” he said. “We were led to believe, ‘get people back on payroll, keep them employed.’ We kept our key people, all our mechanics and office staff, all employed all summer for three months with the center closed. We were here, they were here working, and they were employed. That money’s long gone.”
“We followed the rules,” he said. “And the problem was, we didn’t think it’d be over three months to get back. So we literally burnt through that employing people.”
Haines showed off a new device he purchased to help sanitize the facility. Workers donned face coverings and bowlers spread out across the open lanes to keep their distance. While the alley struggles to reach the 50-person limit during the day, he says at times, he has had to turn bowlers away because the business had reached Pritzker’s capacity limit, a move which he says further handicaps his ability to make payroll and cover expenses.
“At 50%, I think we can survive to get through this, because we do want to be cooperative with all the regulations,” he said, but acknowledged, “it’ll still be a struggle at 50% of capacity.”