Fountain Bowl owners plan to sell due to coronavirus pandemic
Dave Osborn has worked in the bowling industry for 52 years.
His career began in 1968 when he took a job at an on-campus bowling center in college, and he went to work for Brunswick in 1972.
For more than three decades, Osborn has partnered with Gary Forman as owners of Fountain Bowl.
Like any prepared business owner, Osborn would consider the worst-case scenarios. The challenges wrought by the coronavirus pandemic have proven to be beyond belief.
“I used to think about things that could happen that could affect our business, and I never even dreamed about anything like this ever happening,” Osborn said.
After enduring nearly six months of being shut down, Osborn and Forman have determined that they will have to sell the business. Although it would be ideal to sell to a buyer who wanted to continue to operate the bowling alley, the owners think that is unlikely to be the case.
Fountain Bowl has been around for 46 years. On Sept. 15, Osborn and Forman will have owned it for 32 years. The venue has hosted professional tournaments in addition to its claim as a staple of the Fountain Valley community.
The Costa Mesa Catholic school was granted a waiver from the state last week to resume in-person learning. On Tuesday, more than 150 students returned to the campus for a new school year, albeit with a pandemic twist.
Forman said that people in the bowling industry anticipated that closures due to the pandemic would last several weeks — but certainly not as long they have.
Fountain Bowl had 72 employees before the initial shutdown in March. When the bowling center was able to reopen on June 13, Forman said they resumed operations with a “skeletal staff” of about 30 employees and were open just 10 hours a day.
Then the bowling alley had to close again on July 1, which left its owners wondering why after the protocols that had been put in place.
Fountain Bowl, which has 60 lanes, had erected plexiglass at all stations, Osborn said. He added that social distancing was in place, tables were separated in the eating area, only every other lane was available for use, and staff were cleaning and sanitizing constantly. Osborn said the bowling alley was operating at about 30% capacity the first week and 50% the second week after reopening in June and felt the worst had passed.
“We got nothing but compliments because we were doing it probably better than anybody around as far as making sure that it was a safe, clean, sanitized place to come in,” Osborn said. “We did all that, and we still got shut down for it.
“We never had one incident of anybody that had COVID. We had nothing — no employees, no customers. We did all the right stuff, and it didn’t make any difference.”
Under the new color-coded guidelines that were issued by the state on Aug. 28, bowling alleys would not be able to open until their county progresses to the third tier of “moderate transmission,” and operations would be scaled back to 25% capacity.
“Our biggest frustration right now as an industry is with the governor, [Gavin Newsom], because bowling is open now in 48 states,” Forman said. “California and New Mexico are the only two that won’t allow us to reopen.”
Both of the owners agreed that if Fountain Bowl is discontinued, it would be a big loss for the community.
“Emotionally, it was a very difficult decision to do,” Forman said of the decision to sell. “But realistically and pragmatically, when you have no cash and you have bills to pay, you’re kind of left little choice.”
Forman added that the pandemic has made it impossible for businesses to budget because of the unknown.
“Fountain Bowl was like the gathering spot for the community,” Osborn said. “We raised millions of dollars there over the years for fundraisers. We had all of the social organizations and service clubs meeting there — the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary club, Kiwanis. Everybody used that place as their place to meet. It was a focal point of the city.”
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