For the past 20 years, Frank Ticar has spent nearly every day bowling at Mississauga's Classic Bowl.
Ticar, who is now an employee, is afraid his beloved bowling alley won't survive if the government doesn't allow more people in at a time.
"I'm scared. It's very disheartening because I'm an avid bowler," he said. "There's a lot of people that live for bowling and I'm one of them."
Many bowling alleys in the GTA that have been able to start up again amid the COVID-19 pandemic say they're struggling to keep the lanes open under Ontario's Stage 3 guidelines, which allow only 50 people inside at one time.
In a letter to Ontario's premier, chief medical health officer and finance minister, Canada's non-profit bowling association says the blanket 50-person limit doesn't make sense for bowling alleys of various sizes.
Bowl Canada says it wants the province to work with bowling alleys to tailor the rules so they can continue to operate while keeping people safe.
"While we agree that limits are needed to control our re-emergence safely, it is harmful (possibly devastating) for some to have one rule apply to the entire economy," the letter reads.
Ed Sousa, the director of Classic Bowl, is also the chair of Bowl Canada's relaunch committee.
Sousa says he knows of five bowling centres that have already permanently closed in Ontario after learning they could only reopen with a limit of 50 people.
He says that doesn't accommodate leagues and other programs. Sousa is afraid more closures are coming if the government doesn't amend restrictions.
"We don't want to be treated any differently. We just want to be treated equally," Sousa said.
He points to movie theatres in Ontario where, at first, only 50 customers were allowed inside. That was changed to 50 people per auditorium based on advice from the province's chief medical health officer after Cineplex urged the government to loosen rules.
Sousa says after increasing the capacity, movie theatres still have the same number of common areas, food counters and washrooms where more than 50 people will walk through or use.
"Our footprint is even larger than [movie theatres] in some cases," he said. "But now they're permitted hundreds and hundreds and we're still only permitted 50."
Sousa says bowling alleys range from 10,000 to 100,000 square feet.
When asked by CBC Toronto if a similar capacity increase could be implemented for bowling alleys, the Ministry of Health said in a written statement that businesses that are unable to open or resume full activities can submit ideas to amend restrictions through an online proposal.
"Proposals may inform the potential loosening of restrictions as Stage 3 progresses," the statement reads.
Sousa says Bowl Canada has completed that proposal and communicated with the government in various ways about amending restrictions, but hasn't received any concrete answers.
Mississauga bowling alley losing nearly $2K per day
Bowl Canada is asking Ontario to impose a 30 per cent capacity limit or one customer per 107 square feet. It also says it's open to working with the government to come up with a different solution to increase capacity.
Sousa says Classic Bowl is the largest bowling alley in Canada with 60,000 square feet and 60 lanes. While it has a capacity of about 1,400 people, Sousa is asking the government to allow between 200 and 250 visitors at a time so bowling leagues can begin again.
Right now, only walk-in customers are welcome at Classic Bowl. They have to fill out a contact tracing form and get their temperature taken before entering. The alley has arranged its furniture to allow physical distancing, has purchased cleaning equipment and has other health and safety protocols in place.
Sousa says his staff has grown by 60 per cent to accommodate the increased cleaning and safety protocols, but revenue is down by more than 90 per cent.
After reopening on July 31, Sousa says about 30 people show up to bowl per day, compared to a couple thousand before the pandemic. He says the business is losing between $1,500 and $2,000 per day.
"How can a business continue with that model? It's just not sustainable."
Restrictions will ease when it's safe, ministry says
A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture says the ministry continues to work with the sport and recreation sector to develop protocols and guidance to ease restrictions if and when it's safe to do so.
"This is in keeping with Ontario's gradual, incremental approach to ensure the safe reopening of the province," Dakota Brasier wrote in a statement.
Brasier also suggested businesses precluded from operating due to Stage 3 restrictions submit an online reopening proposal.
In the meantime, Ticar says bowling is his main social outlet and is afraid his league may also fold.
"We all hang out together. We go bowling, we go golfing," he said. "We do all that stuff together and that's just our livelihood."
Sousa says not only do bowling alleys cater to birthday parties and events, but they provide social and physical opportunities to seniors and host fundraising events that benefit local charities.
"Bowling is part of the fabric of a community," he said.
"It enhances the quality of life in a community."