As Michigan skating rinks, theaters and bingo parlors reopen, patrons return cautiously

Business was rolling again Friday at Skate World of Troy as it reopened its doors after a seven-month closure under a state-mandated executive order due to COVID-19 concerns.

By noon Friday, about 20 senior citizens had arrived at the roller rink for a two-hour skating session, which draws regulars for socializing and physical activity.

Peggy and Al Kerckhove of Canton returned to Skate World of Troy on Friday after a seven-month hiatus due to state pandemic restrictions.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back to skating…” said Barbara Beeding, 75, of Shelby Township as she sat on a bench near the rink floor. “It’s just good to hear the music, see all the people again.”

Skate World of Troy was among numerous entertainment venues allowed to reopen Friday including theaters, performance venues, arcades and bingo halls. The venues appear to be the last sector to reopen following wide sweeping closures Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Business owners and operators say they’ve long had plans to reopen safely. Whitmer announced the reopening Sept. 25.

“We’re ready,” said Darlene Searles, general manager. “We did a lot of deep-down cleaning… After every session we have to sanitize the whole building.”

Sylvia Soullier of Troy checks her skates before hitting the rink at Skate World of Troy on Friday.

Each skater had their temperature taken upon arrival and their name logged in a notebook.

Under the most recent order the state is requiring businesses to keep records on those entering their facilities so they can contact them if there is an outbreak.

Most non-residential indoor venues can host gatherings and organized events if they maintain fewer than 20 people per 1,000 square feet. In Northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, capacity for non-residential indoor gatherings is fewer than 25 people per 1,000 square feet.

Performance venues and stadiums can operate at 20% seating capacity and can accommodate no more than 500 people.

Steve Leiger of Plymouth gets his temperature checked by Darlene Searles, general manager of Skate World of Troy.

Although movie theater capacity is set at 20%, Laura Goldstein owner of Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, said she doesn’t expect to fill all of the available seats. That’s based on her experience with theaters she owns in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, which reopened at 30% capacity in early June. 

“Some people are itching to get back to the movies, can’t wait, have been waiting with bated breath and just need to get back as soon as possible,” she said. “Some people are definitely more fearful and I can appreciate that.”

The theater has Plexiglas barriers between patrons and cashiers, and spaced seating between parties. Patrons are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance.

“I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised,” Goldstein said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to open up as soon as possible because we want to show people that it’s safe here. I think once they come here they’ll feel very comfortable.”

The lobby was quiet early Friday afternoon as one worker stood behind the counter, ready to fulfill concession orders.

Gary Donley, left, and his brother Tim Donley were the first moviegoers to return to the Maple Theater on Friday.

Gary Donley of Royal Oak, and his brother Tim Donley were the first to arrive at Maple Theater for a showing of “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Tim, who was visiting from Florida, suggested visiting the theater.

“It’s about time,” Gary Donley said of theaters reopening in Michigan. “Moviegoers like to be in the movie theater.” 

Tim Donley said there’s no comparison to watching movies at home and going to a movie theater. 

“In a big screen you feel like it’s an experience,” he said. “When you’re at home — it’s just home.”

Bingo halls made a return Friday as well.

At North Gratiot Hall in Chesterfield Township, about 60 players arrived for an early afternoon bingo game session, said Mandy Ullrich, manager. Under the capacity limit the hall can accommodate 111 people. 

Gary Donley reacts to an empty theater Friday upon arriving to a screening of "The Trial of the Chicago 7."

“It feels awesome because the bingo players are like a family to us and we really miss them. They miss us,” Ullrich said. “We only had a few grumpy people because of the mask situation and having to sit six feet apart, but most people were happy to be back.”

As of Friday most of the regular bingo sessions were on the calendar for the upcoming weeks. Ullrich said she expects more players to return as they learn that the hall has reopened.

At Skate World of Troy, Carlene Karavite, of Royal Oak, said she checked in with her skate instructor for reopening updates. The 81-year-old has been skating at the rink for 13 years. 

“This has been what’s keeping me going,” she said. “My husband had been in and out of the hospital last year umpteenth times. I can’t even keep track. So this has been my home away from home.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN