Langer's Entertainment Center endures ups and downs of COVID-19
For area businesses catering to family enjoyment, both 2020 and 2021 have had plenty of COVID-19 challenges.
Looking back at 2020, Parker Vogt, general manager at Langer's Entertainment Center in Sherwood, said, "It's definitely been very difficult. We had 140 staff members total when we shut down in March. When we were finally able to re-open the first time, in June, we only had about 45 that were able to come back."
The Sherwood facility, which opened in October 2019, has a maximum occupancy of 1,600 and offers many amenities, including an arcade, laser tag, a rock wall and a bowling alley.
As COVID guidance was updated throughout the period, Vogt said it was difficult for his business.
"Our facility is so unique," he said. "They kind of lumped us in with restaurants, but also with gyms, initially."
Then, in July of last year, Langer's was informed that its attractions would not be able to operate.
Langer's decided to reach out to local and state officials.
"Even before they allowed us to reopen, we recorded videos to send out to local and state politicians that we were able to operate safety, basically by disinfecting everything at the sacrifice of our equipment," Vogt said. "We just really didn't (get) traction with them."
Langer's had to be shut down in November, when Gov. Kate Brown ordered a "two-week freeze" that soon morphed into months of restrictions on business activities and gatherings.
"Each time we saw a light at the end of the tunnel, they knocked us back," Vogt lamented.
While COVID-19 remains a major issue in Oregon, the state's approach has changed from what it was last winter and spring. While masks are required by a statewide mandate, and certain employers have state and/or federal mandates requiring them to get proof of vaccination from their workers, businesses like Langer's are now operating at full capacity.
"When we came back in February of this year, we were able to bring on 38 of our original staff," Vogt said. "Within a matter of about three months, we ended up hiring about 70 new staff members."
When masks were first mandated, Vogt said, "There was a little bit of a pushback — it wasn't terrible with the mask mandates, but it definitely was difficult because we are a happy place."
When Brown temporarily lifted the indoor mask mandate this summer, Vogt felt relief.
"It felt different from last year," Vogt said. "It made sense. We were moving in the right direction. People were feeling more comfortable coming out. You look at businesses all around Sherwood and everybody was seeing some big numbers."
Vogt continued, "It's a weird experience to go to a family entertainment center wearing masks, especially for the kids — our business is all about smiling. To get that interaction back was a really big deal."
However, the mask mandate was reinstated weeks later as the delta variant, a much more contagious form of coronavirus, emerged.
"Now with the mask mandate coming back in, we got a little bit of pushback from both sides," Vogt said. He's been telling people who aren't happy: "This time, this isn't us. If you're not happy with these rules, talk to the governor, talk to the people who are making us the arbiters of who wears the mask."
Vogt added, "It hasn't been quite as bad as it was last year. People are a little bit more accepting of it."
In Tigard, Mark Pearl, owner of Tigard Bowl, is not pleased with the trajectory of the pandemic and how his business is being affected.
"It's been kind of horrible," Pearl said. "We've had a hell of a time because with the masks, we've already got people that won't bowl with masks, so they won't come back. Other people are scared."
Closures have had a big impact on the popular Tigard bowling alley.
"We've been hit really hard, because we were closed for so long," he said. "What happened in that time was people found other stuff to do on those nights. Masks are really creating a lot of problems, but we'll wear them if we have to."
Summer is traditionally a slower time for bowling facilities, but Pearl looks ahead to the cold weather months, a busier time at Tigard Bowl.
"I'm trying to be optimistic," Pearl said. "What it boils down to is we are on the edge of losing our business for the last year. Every day I open, I'm pretty happy. This is one of those industries that unless you have a hundred video games, you don't make much money."
At Langer's, Vogt chooses to be optimistic looking forward.
"People are willing to go out," Vogt said. "The vaccine rate in Washington County is very high. Our staff do a great job of making sure that the guests are aware that we are very focused on cleanliness. Barring any major changes, new variants, new guidance from the state, I am optimistic."
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