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As with a lot of businesses, COVID-19 made it tough to run the popular bowling facility.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - At Oregon Trail Lanes in St. Helens, Kenny Van-Nostrand (left and Hayden Overstreet run the counter. Thanks to the June lifting of the state mask mandate, more visitors to and residents of St. Helens will be able to try for a perfect 300 game at Oregon Trail Lanes.

It has been a series of ups and downs for the popular bowling alley during the pandemic. As with other businesses, Oregon Trail Lanes has had to cope with periodic shutdowns and reopenings.

But the future is looking brighter for the St. Helens business, which last year observed its 60th birthday, despite the pandemic.

"People are very, very excited to get back in here," said Kellie Smith, who co-owns the business with her husband Brandon. "Now they're coming in with their families."

During the thick of the pandemic, however, things were not as rosy for the Smiths' bowling facility and other businesses.

"I would say our biggest stress was the masks ... trying to enforce that or dealing with people's thoughts," Kellie Smith said, adding, "Really, the stress was hard. Without a customer, we don't have any money coming in."

Smith continued, "We couldn't pay anybody. We pay ourselves, as employees, so we couldn't take our checks."

Smith recalled sitting in her office and applying for any kind of financial assistance. Her business was helped along by a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan and a couple of grants from the city of St. Helens.

PPP is a U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loan program that has helped businesses keep their workers employed during the pandemic.

Oregon Trail Lanes is looking forward to better days ahead now that masks have been lifted. According to Brandon Smith, every lane can be used, no social distancing will be required and no groups will have to be split up.

"Everything is back to feeling as normal as possible," he said. "It's still our slow season, so we haven't had the big influx of people coming in.

"It has been better since the mask mandate has been lifted. People are a lot more willing to come in."

At Oregon Trail Lanes, summer is considered the slow season. Peak business occurs fall, winter and early spring.

During a typical peak season, Oregon Trail Lanes offers adult leagues Sunday through Friday, mainly in the evenings. Monday morning is for seniors while on Tuesday, a woman's league bowls in the morning and a mixed league in the afternoon. Saturday mornings feature junior bowlers. Monte Carlo should be starting up Saturday nights, once a month, this fall.

Oregon Trail Lanes has leagues every day of the week.

Brandon Smith is optimistic looking ahead.

"At the end of the day, it's a great relief to know that we can utilize the whole business again and try to get things back to where it was," Brandon Smith said. "It was a stressful time, but the light at the end of the tunnel is there. It's easier to breathe and sleep at night now."

He remarked, "The most common comment is, 'It's good to see your smiling face again.' It's been good. There's been no negative at all. Everybody's just relieved to have that feeling it's somewhat normal again."


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