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Bowling alley owner sad, angry

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CLAYTON — Pondra and Eddie Byrd had spent countless hours and thousands of dollars preparing to safely reopen Rainbow Lanes Family Fun Center amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

But then Gov. Roy Cooper changed his mind, crossing bowling alleys off of the list of businesses that could reopen under Phase 2.

In an interview, Pondra Byrd sat at a table, removed her glasses, rubbed her eyes and fought back tears. “Our livelihood has been taken from us,” she said. “This place is our heart and soul.”

In preparation for what they thought would be a May 22 reopening, the couple had purchased new carts for sanitizing bowling balls. They had spread tables six feet apart, installed plexiglass shields at cash registers, and placed sanitizer bottles and colorful social distancing signs on tables. Wall-mounted hand sanitizer stations were on their way, along with motion-activated sinks and paper towel dispensers. And the couple had required their employees to take COVID-19 training.

For 23 years, Byrd said, she and her husband have worked hard to make Rainbow Lanes an enjoyable place for families to hold birthday parties, for friends to battle in the bowling lanes and, on Sundays, for fledgling churches to hold worship services.

The couple wanted the same amid the coronavirus pandemic, Byrd said. “I want them to feel comfortable coming back here, knowing that we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safety,” she said.

Employee training was a big part of that effort, Byrd said. “Our bowling association, the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, has been very proactive in providing training courses,” she said.

To prep their employees, the Byrds sent them the link for online COVID-19 training. “And they will get certificates that will be on display so our customers will know that we have taken precautions and that our staff has been trained in proper procedure,” she said.

In a meeting over lunch, the owners discussed new protocols and the required training with their employees. “We went over how it was going to be a brand new place, just like they were starting over at a new job, because of what we were going to implement to make sure that they were safe and that our customers are safe,” Byrd said.

After Cooper changed his mind about bowling alleys, her reaction went from disappointment and shock to anger and sadness, Byrd said.

She’s sad because the bowling alley’s nearly 30 employees cannot return to work. “Our staff has been receptive to whatever it takes to get them back to work and us back in business,” Byrd said.

She’s angry because the governor won’t even give her business the chance to show it can keep the community safe. “We’ve always had plenty of space, and we can accommodate the social distancing very easily,” Byrd said. “We’re a community gathering place, and it just hurts to be singled out and to get that stigma attached to us.”

“It’s just hard for us having been so much a part of the community to see ourselves portrayed as a nasty, germ-filled environment,” she said, tears now streaming down her face.