For Kingpin Bowling Centre, the Covid-19 pandemic has knocked over most of its pins, but the game isn’t over yet.
Owner Ella Liu decided to shut down the alley just three days before the NWT’s first case of coronavirus was announced on March 21.
Then for over four months there were no more strikes, spares, rounds or games while she kept Yellowknife’s only bowling alley closed.
It was quite a blow for Liu, who hoped that her first few years as a new businessperson in Canada would have been smoother.
She came to Yellowknife from Shenzhen, China in August 2017 under the NWT Immigration Nominee Program, designed for people who want to immigrate and start a new business. She took over Kingpin in September 2018.
The closure caused her revenues to plummet 100 per cent. She estimates she was down $20,000.
Assistance from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) fund for small businesses helped her avoid closing permanently.
She spent the slow months of closure researching online how she could prepare her business plan for reopening.
Due to the single purpose of a bowling alley, she wasn’t able to modify the business into something that could still earn revenue while it was closed. She also didn’t have any side businesses she could tap into because of her status in the nominee program.
Even though many businesses in Yellowknife felt more comfortable reopening after the NWT entered phase two of the Emerging Wisely recovery plan in mid-June, Liu decided to hold on longer.
“I waited for other businesses to open until I had the confidence to open,” she said.
She opened her doors to bowlers on July 28, happy to see customers again.
“They were glad I opened again (too),” she said.
Liu estimates August customer numbers were only down by 10 per cent compared to a year earlier.
“Summer is always slower here because many people go camping. In the wintertime it’s busier,” Liu said.
But this winter could be different.
“Usually in September, people are already booking for December, like for Christmas parties. But now, nobody has made a reservation for Christmas time yet,” she said.
It’s hard to sugar coat the situation Liu faces. Under Covid capacity rules, only 25 people are permitted inside Kingpin at a time. Liu’s normal capacity is 100.
“The busiest days used to be Friday and Saturday. Before Covid, last year we were always at maximum capacity on the weekends,” she recalled.
For now, her son is helping her run the alley. She’s confident that, as temperatures fall further, October will draw more customers and she plans to rehire the staff member she laid off in March.
Despite Covid significantly reducing the potential of Kingpin, Liu said that reopening has at least allowed her to stay busy again.
“I’m not bored anymore. Life has a purpose again. I can do business and make some money.”