AMBER TOWNSHIP — Donn Slimmen and his Spartan West Bowling Center are part of a federal lawsuit against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to try to get bowling centers across the state back open.
“I’m worried about losing (the business), period,” Slimmen said Thursday.
The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids on Aug. 6 along with the Bowling Centers Association of Michigan and four other bowling centers across the state to reopen after the governor shut them down in March through executive order because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the lawsuit, filed by attorney Kenneth T. Brooks, it states that while they have remained shuttered, other non-essential businesses were reopened as they adhere to guidances from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They say the executive orders — E.O. 2020-160 in particular — constitute violations of the commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution, due process under the 14th Amendment, and the “takings clauses” of the federal and state constitutions. The lawsuit seeks an immediate emergency preliminary injunction.
Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown and Ryan Jarvi, a spokesperson in Nessel’s office, declined to comment to the Daily News.
Spartan West is one the smallest bowling centers in the lawsuit. The other four bowling centers are the Forest View Lanes in Temperance, the 60-lane Royal Scot Golf & Bowl in Lansing, the 52-lane Spectrum Lanes in Wyoming and 40-lane Merri Bowl in Livonia.
Mason County has seen its decrease in the number of bowlers overall as other bowling centers have closed. September will mark the start of a crucial time for Spartan West, when the organization of league play typically begins, and Slimmen said the time is fast approaching for local bowlers to start signing up for the season.
“We’re getting leagues organized. We’ve had one league meeting already,” he said. “(In) the women’s league, we’ve lost a couple of bowlers, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to lose much out of that league. There’s a couple of other leagues (and) I have no idea (how it will go). I haven’t had any contact with them since March.”
Slimmen said he doesn’t want to scare regular Spartan West bowlers and patrons, but if the center can’t open soon, trouble is ahead.
“If I don’t have my bowlers back by the end of September… Mason County is done,” he said. “Because I’ve already lost $180,000 of business, to date. March is our biggest month, and (Whitmer) closed everybody down March 10.”
Michigan is one of five states that have yet to reopen bowling centers, along with New York, North Carolina, California and Washington, according to the bowling association. When the pandemic first struck, it abruptly ended league play across the state in bowling centers. The bowling centers want to reopen with safety precautions in place for their patrons as the calendar turns to September and league bowlers look forward to resuming play.
In the complaint in federal court, the bowling centers say some businesses and locations they believe to be less safe are allowed to resume, including beaches, malls, playgrounds and restaurants.
Bowling centers across the state rallied at the state capitol on Wednesday to draw attention to the issue. Bo Guergen, the executive director of the Bowling Centers Association of Michigan, said he and his fellow proprietors simply want to be heard. He said he’s spoken with an adviser for Whitmer’s office, but has yet to see anything come from the conversation.
“We want to plead our case,” he said. “Give us an idea on where we’re at.”
Guergen said time is a major factor for bowling centers as summer begins to wane. He said his phone was ringing quite a bit Thursday between various reporters calling as well as attorneys and lobbyists for the organization. But he points to the other states — including neighbors in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois — that have reopened bowling centers.
“How is it safe in 45 other (states) and not here?” he asked.
The organization seeks to implement guidelines developed by the Bowling Proprietors Association of America and work within guidelines and practices set by the CDC, as well as the Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
Slimmen said Spartan West is prepared to sanitize “far and above” what’s needed for things like bowling shoes.
“For years and years and years and years, bowling centers have been able to sanitize those shoes,” Slimmen said. “There’s no way the coronavirus will go from you to me by me renting the same shoes you had.”
He said the balls provided the bowling centers can be sanitized after each use as well. Ball returns, tables, chairs and other items can also be cleaned. Bathrooms can be cleaned and sanitized more frequently. The lanes themselves could be scrubbed of their oil and have new oil put down each day.
“We can follow the solutions from the CDC. We can follow the solutions from the health departments. We can follow the solutions from whatever, and we can go up and above them,” Slimmen said, later adding that perhaps it would be possible for a mixture of sanitizer and lane oil be applied to the lanes to help keep things clean.
“The last thing I want is for someone to get sick here,” he said.
Slimmen felt confident in the solutions Spartan West has to fight the coronavirus, but he was open to getting UV lights or wands to help kill the virus, if necessary.
“We’re ready to go. We have all the stuff that we need, we just have to have the governor say, ‘You can unlock your door.’”
Slimmen said he’s been in contact with both 101st Dist. State House Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, and 35th Dist. State Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, about his concerns. VanderWall said he believes bowling centers can operate safely during the pandemic.
O’Malley, who is on the Joint Select Committee for the COVID-19 pandemic, said he heard testimony from Guergen and others about the safety measures in place by bowling centers.
“From what I’ve seen, from their testimony, so many of these types of businesses have protocols in place. They present them to the governor’s office and (the Department of Health and Human Services), then sit and wait,” O’Malley said. “From what I’ve seen, the bowling proprietors have very reasonable and very safe protocols in place, and yet, they have to sit closed. It’s unfortunate.”
Slimmen and Spartan West are in a precarious situation. The bowling center made several upgrades during the summer months because there were contracts that were signed in January, well before the pandemic struck the state.
“After she shut us down, we spent $100,000 on the place. This dining room was entirely remodeled. We have the booths, yellow paint on the walls, trim work up. We made this into a nice family restaurant,” Slimmen said. “We spent probably $50,000 to $60,000 on the lanes itself. We changed some lighting out on the bowling machine. We have running lights out on the lanes for our open bowling and weekend bowling to make it so much nicer and neater.”
When asked about the investment, he said, “Who expected us to be shut down for five months? I signed that contract with AMF (for the lanes) before this started in January. I was locked into it… We’ve done a lot of upgrades here, but I’m starting to get really scared it might have been for naught.”
Beamer’s Restaurant, which is connected to Spartan West, is open on Fridays only, and, while those days have been successful, it’s earned a fraction of the income Spartan West generates, according to Slimmen.
“Every two weeks, we take in enough for our restaurant that I can pay the salary to all of my employees,” Slimmen said. “So, I still don’t have enough money to pay my electric, pay my gas, pay for the food to serve in my restaurant.
“I can only go so long.”
Weather conditions were near perfect for Thursday’s ice cream social hosted by the Ludington Senior Center.
Center employees and volunteers scooped up sundae options ranging from vanilla ice cream with blueberry sauce, whip cream and topped with blueberries to a much mask with chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, whip cream and topped with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
The drive-up ice cream social sponsored by House of Flavors was a fundraising opportunity for the center, according to Vickie Collins, director of center.
“We have not been able to do a whole lot of activities at the center,” she said. “We did this to let people know that we are still here (and) we are still open to help people. We just can’t do the activities.”
Collins said she had a number of volunteers helping out as well as the Ludington Police Department helping take money and handing out ice cream sundaes.
“This has just been a riot. We had people lined up at 12:30, we didn’t open until 1 p.m.,” Collins said. “Barry Neal, owner of House of Flavors, donated all the ice cream and ice cream scoops for the event.”
Since the senior center has not been able to provide activities for area seniors the donation stream has been down. The center usually receives funds from activities like yoga and Zumba classes and donations are usually made when senior center employees provide services like tax preparation.
Collins said this activity will help the center get through to the end of the year and cover some costs at the center.
“This (ice cream social) is also a great way to have fun with the community,” she said. “We could ask for a better day.”
People had the option of choosing on Thursday from four sundae options.
People will be able to choose from four sundae options.
• Senior Scoop: vanilla ice cream, blueberry sauce, whip cream and topped with blueberries;
• Zumba Zebra: vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whip cream and topped with Hersey Kisses.
• COVID Caramel: vanilla ice Cream, caramel sauce, whip cream and topped with caramel M&M’s.
• Mason County Mich Mash: chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, whip cream and topped with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Nancy Parker, a volunteer, came up with the sundae names, according to Collins who’s only request is that they were fun names.
Community members were charged $2 for a sundae and collins was keeping track of which sundae would be the selected the most.
Number of confirmed cases in area counties
Mason County: 92 (70 recovered)
Oceana County: 458 (386 recovered; 6 deaths)
Manistee County: 36 (26 recovered)
Lake County: 25 (11 recovered)
Wexford County: 59 (39 recovered; 4 deaths)
Newaygo County: 246 (194 recovered)
— as of 4 p.m. Thursday according to District Health Department No. 10,
Epworth to host Rev. David Houk in virtual visit Sunday
On Sunday, Epworth will welcome the Rev. Fr. David Houk for a virtual appearance in the Visiting Minister series.
Houk grew up in Lud-ington. He earned a bach-elor’s degree from Wheaton College in Illinois in 1992 and went on to earn his master’s of divinity degree from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Houk was called to be the rector of St. John’s in 2006. He is the son of Chuck and Vicky Houk of Chuck Houk Refrigeration and Heating. Houk moved to Texas in 2001 for a ministry position and since 2006 has served as the senior pastor at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Dallas.
A student of Scripture and history, Houk regularly leads tours to the Holy Land, considering Jerusalem his hometown after Ludington. He is a lover of liturgy, theology, scripture, literature, poetry, Scrabble, the New York Times crossword puzzle, cooking and practicing Arabic. When he visits Ludington in the summer, he enjoys fishing.
He’ll be preaching from John 21: 1-14, “On fishing, faith and luck.”
The Epworth Church Association continues to serve the Epworth community and the community at large in 2020, even during the pandemic, but it will do so virtually. The services are available at www.epworthchurch1894.org. A link can also be found on the Epworth Assembly Facebook page.
LANSING — The former owner of a Manistee funeral home was ordered by the court Wednesday to pay back $213,000 after he used the money — which was given to him by clients for their prepaid funeral contracts — to support his business, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday in a press release.
Denis Robert Johnson, 70, was sentenced Wednesday in 19th Circuit Court in Manistee before Judge David A. Thompson, according to the release. Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of funeral contracts – conversion, a five-year felony.
As part of a plea deal, Johnson must pay $213,567.53 in restitution to the people he took money from, even those whose claims could not be charged due to statute of limitations, according to the release.
The release indicated Johnson sold the Manistee funeral home property he owned to fully finance the restitution, with that money to be distributed to victims. Johnson was also sentenced to serve up to 60 days in county jail and probation after his release.
“When people lay their hard-earned money down on the table and sign a contract, they expect that agreement to be upheld and for their money to be handled appropriately — not used for someone else’s personal reasons,” Nessel stated in the release. “I’m grateful for the coordination between my office and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs in bringing this matter to a close and providing all of the victims in this case with proper restitution.”
A complaint from one of Johnson’s clients led to an audit of the funeral home’s finances by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). The audit revealed that 75 prepaid contracts were not properly escrowed, according to the release. LARA revoked Johnson’s license as a result of the details discovered through the audit and referred the case to the attorney general’s office.
Johnson was charged in September with four felony counts of failing to escrow prepaid funeral contract funds, according to the release. A single count of the felony charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000.
Johnson was the owner and licensed funeral director at Johnson Funeral Home in Manistee, the released stated, where he was also licensed to sell prepaid funeral contracts.