More and more businesses have been given the green light to reopen by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of the state’s COVID-19 phased reopening plans — but some exceptions include the attractions industry.
Ryan D’Amico, the vice president, owner and general manager of Laser Bounce Family Fun Center in Glendale and Levittown, believes Cuomo has delayed the reopening of the attractions industry for “far too long and to the detriment” of the state.
“Family entertainment centers, water parks, amusement parks — the overall attractions industry — in New York has been forgotten,” D’Amico wrote in an op-ed. “We employ thousands of people and contribute to our communities. Our employees are ready to work. Our guests are ready to return. And we are ready to work with the state to present our plans on how we do all of this, safely.”
With New York’s COVID-19 infection rate under 1 percent and schools beginning in-person classes (amid widespread concerns regarding safety guidelines), D’Amico is calling on Cuomo to reconsider his reluctance of letting attractions come back.
D’Amico closed the doors to both of Laser Bounce’s locations in March. The family-owned “funplex,” featuring laser tag, bounce houses and arcade sections, has two indoor spaces, one in Glendale at The Shops at Atlas Park and the other on Long Island at 2710 Hempstead Turnpike.
The business has been around for 10 years on Long Island, and expanded to Glendale (which is 20,000 square feet) in 2018.
D’Amico said the months of COVID-19 shutdown has led to more than $1 million in lost revenue. They first furloughed employees, but eventually had to lay off almost their whole staff, which in total is more than 100 people.
“We still have rental obligations, taxes have to be paid,” he said. “We don’t really have a choice at this point.”
While they were able to secure a PPP loan and a loan from the Small Business Administration, it doesn’t come close to what they need to survive.
“Not only have we lost money, we’ve given money back for refunds or deposits,” D’Amico said. “We didn’t have to do it, they were non refundable, but we want to do that in goodwill to our customers so they know we understand they are going through tough times as well.”
In the months they’ve been forced to stay closed, Laser Bounce has increased safety procedures and equipment. But, D’Amico stressed that safety has and will always be the attractions industry’s first priority.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, their locations had hand sanitizer dispensers scattered throughout their space.
Now, they have increased the available hand sanitizer, added plexiglass to separate counter workers from guests, placed six-feet distance indicators and added a thermal imaging camera that takes the temperature of whoever enters the location with no thermometer needed.
They are also increasing cleaning, using tools that spray sanitizer over any surface.
D’Amico and about 50 fellow attractions business owners across New York took it upon themselves to give Cuomo’s office a 40-page packet on guidance and reopening, as they felt they haven’t received any guidelines since phased reopening began at the end of June.
They are working with IAAPA, the global association for the attractions industry, which developed an in-depth COVID-19 Reopening Guidance that has been used in several other state reopening plans.
“It goes into detail on what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, how to keep people safe,” he said. “We’ve kind of [fallen on] deaf ears. No one’s really listened to us at this point.”
In the last few months, indoor and outdoor amusement parks were allowed to reopen in neighboring states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
D’Amico said that in light of that, they’ve hired a lobbying firm to help push their message.
He said it’s frustrating that they’ve been told they are not allowed to reopen due to concerns of children’s safety.
“Why are casinos open? Why are gyms open? Why are trampoline parks open? Bowling alleys could open — but we’re not allowed to open,” he said. “They keep telling us that it’s because of the children and because they want them to go back to school — but you’re opening casinos, which is marketed toward an older and elderly population and they’re at a higher risk than children are. They’re allowed to open but arcades can’t. Doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Cuomo recently told reporters the opening of certain sectors boils down to the mathematics of a manageable infection rate.
“We don’t want to see the COVID infection rate go over 1 percent for any period of time,” Cuomo said.
D’Amico believes Cuomo is lumping together bigger amusement parks with smaller ones like Laser Bounce, and not even providing them with a timeline for when they can expect to reopen.
The governor’s office did not respond to QNS’ request for comment.
But at Laser Bounce, apart from their safety precautions, they’ve set up online registration and installed an application that allows customers to use their smartphones to pay for arcade games in lieu of the original money cards.
They have also equipped their space with Merv-13 filters for proper ventilation, which Cuomo mandated for other businesses like malls.
D’Amico, his family’s sole provider, said it’s been a financially troubling time for him and business owners like him.
“I have my own personal financial obligations,” he said. “I have no money coming in. I’ve spent money out of my own pocket to get my business up and going. Everyday, it gets tougher and tougher.”
D’Amico said that even when they can reopen, it’ll take them years to get their customer base back to what it once was.
“It’s more difficult for us because everyone else has open now and we’ve been left with a black eye,” D’Amico said. “They’re telling us we’re unsafe and we’re not clean, but we have to go back and tell people we’ve always been safe and clean. That’s our number one priority. And now we have to recover — not only when we do get back open, but we have to recover to say, ‘Look, we’re beyond clean and safe. Come back to my facilities.'”