Oakwood Bowl hasn’t seen a bowler since Enid mayor George Pankonin ordered an end to what were deemed non-essential activities in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus nearly a month ago.
Like others businesses, the shutdown has created an obvious hardship with no revenue being generated. However, Oakwood Bowl has differentiated itself from many other similarly suffering businesses.
Oakwood’s six salaried employees continue to work and receive pay checks, but so do its hourly employees despite there not being work for them.
“We don’t want to lose our employees, it’s not their fault,” said Sandy Tate on Wednesday. Tate and her husband Jim Tate operate Oakwood Bowl, which first opened for business 73 years ago by her father-in-law Jack Tate, who died three years ago.
Tate said during the shutdown herself, Jack and her salaried staff have been coming in daily from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., working on sprucing up both the bowling center and remodeling its on-site restaurant, “The Hungry Bowler,” but she is making sure all the employees are being compensated, as best as possible.
“We’re giving them (hourly employees) a portion of what we would give them as far as money, but they have not been coming in,” Tate said.
She sees it as the right thing to do and honoring Oakwood founder Jack Tate.
“I just think to myself what would Jack be doing if he were still here with this going on,” she said. “I hope we are doing him proud by continuing to keep paying our employees. I think he would do that. I just try to do what I think he would do or would have done.”
Still, like other business owners, Sandy Tate is hopeful the current shutdown doesn’t continue much longer.
“We’re doing the best we can for as long as we can,” she said. “I just hope it doesn’t go on much more than May 1.”
Mayor Pankonin’s decree, which went into effect March 21, currently runs until April 30. On Wednesday, Governor Kevin Stitt extended the state’s shelter-in-place recommendations for vulnerable populations to May 6.
Oakwood had eight winter leagues operating at the time of the shutdown that would have continued into early May.
“I honestly don’t know what they’re going to do,” Tate said.
“I am hoping they will just come back and finish up, but we haven’t contacted any of the league officers to find out if that’s what they have planned, because it’s up to the leagues. We need them to finish, but that’s doesn’t mean they are going to finish. They could just say we’re going to quit and pay out what we have and call it good.”
Also impacted has been youth bowling, which normally sees 63 young bowlers on the floor each Tuesday night. Tate is hopeful they can get back on the lanes soon.
“I’m planning on just going ahead as soon as we can reopen to put them on the floor and get them finished up,” she said.
However, it’s too late to salvage the planned award banquets. It has also cost Oakwood several tournaments that provide much needed revenue.
But the potential loss of one other event would particularly sting.
Tate is hoping Oakwood Bowl’s annual youth “Turn-around Achievement Awards” breakfast can still be held, but time may be running out for as the planned May 12 date approaches.
“We go around to each high school and the junior highs and they pick one kid from each school and we give them an honor breakfast because they turned their lives around,” Tate said. “But now I don’t know if we are going to be able to do that because I have only had two schools out of 13 respond.”
For Tate, that would present a heartbreaking scenario.
“I may just have to cancel for this year and that would be the first time in 26 years we haven’t done it,” she said.
Despite the current uncertainty and unknown future, Tate continues to plan for business as usual once the restrictions are lifted.
“My spirits are up because I know God is going to take care of us,” she said.
“I would just like to encourage people to hang in there. We’re going to be back in business some day and we will be ready. We’re working to make everything nice and shiny and pretty. I just hope everybody can appreciate we’re there still.”
Article by: Dave Ruthenberg
Photo: Billy Hefton