The Next Step for Illinois Bowling Proprietors Could Be Court

by Bob Johnson 0

In Illinois, proprietors frustrated with that state’s governor and his recent actions that place onerous restrictions on reopening their centers (see Cyber Report No. 1,115) have decided to take action.

Here are excerpts from a recent letter to member centers issued by Illinois State Bowling Proprietors Association President Bill Brennan of Bluebird Lanes in Chicago:

“It’s an understatement that we have all had a trying week with the bad news that we received... Being closed for a more than 100 days and the turnabout by the State of Illinois has compounded our fears and frustrations.

“Our Task Force, who have led the communication with the State, are beyond the boiling point of patience, as the State of Illinois provided what was essentially false information and hope that we would be at a capacity number starting June 26. In fact, shortly after the demoralizing conference.. we immediately began to retool our strategy to provide us all relief from this destructive guideline limiting our centers to only 50 customers at a time.

“We have made countless phone calls with various elected officials of both parties throughout Illinois. All understand and share our frustrations with the Governor. One such call was with Assistant Majority Senate Leader Antonio Munoz, who was extremely agitated that we were misled, and consequently set an immediate meeting with IDPH and the Governor’s administration.

“Through these efforts and your phone calls and emails, we were contacted [and a meeting was] scheduled with DCEO and Bain & Company... They stated they would like ‘to talk through your thoughts and concerns’ with the Phase 4 guidelines and restrictions. Be assured they are going to get an earful!

“During this time frame ISBPA's Executive Committee met and unanimously approved the vetting of several attorneys to file a lawsuit. This was the last action we wanted to take as an association as it could have possibly spotlighted our organization, businesses and sport in a negative light. We feel that public sentiment is much different for us now than it was weeks ago. We also can’t rely on a quick, decisive and truthful response from the State of Illinois, as evidenced in these last few days since the Phase 4 rollout. Time is of the essence for all of us and we feel that litigation may be the only way to get hastened relief.”

According to ISBPA Executive Director Bill Duff, ISBPA representatives were told on Monday's Zoom conference meeting that the Illinois Department of Health made the final determination on all industry-specific guidelines, and they will not budge from their determination to place a fixed customer count on bowling center businesses.

“Their only ‘concession’ was to reevaluate and possibly increase the customer count numbers in the next several weeks, but only as a fixed number,” Duff said. “They will not consider any kind of percentage of capacity, even though they realize it may cause many bowling centers with larger lane-bed counts to be forced to make a decision to remain closed or operate at a net loss.” ISBPA now has retained the services of Michael Best Strategies, which works with BPAA and several state associations on various issues impacting proprietors — including response, recovery and reopening with COVID-19 — and has an office in downtown Chicago.

“Their colleagues based in Illinois have very strong relationships with the State of Illinois administration,” Duff noted. “Scott Beightol sits on BPAA’s Board of Directors and has provided legal expertise to the bowling industry for many years. He knows the industry and is already assembling a legal team for our lawsuit. Michael Best attorneys are currently leading litigation for proprietors in North Carolina on the issue of reopening centers from their Raleigh office.”

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.

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