How Richmond’s arcades and social clubs plan to reopen and keep customers safe

Posted at 7:17 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 15:27:36-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Some businesses and restaurants advertise memorable experiences to get customers inside the door. The COVID-19 pandemic turned that entertainment model upside down.

Jim Gottier found that out when he was forced to close Hotel Greene on West Franklin Street in March.

“This place is packed on Fridays and Saturdays. So, that’s it. We can’t open,” he explained. “We shut it down and we were going to reopen it when we can.”

Gottier and his wife opened the hotel themed mini-golf indoor course in downtown Richmond last June.

They renovated the old John Marshall hotel into a 13-hole course that winds its way through the “hotel” and leads players to their “hotel room.”

“This is a destination, a place to come and have a fun experience in a quirky and unique atmosphere,” Gottier said.

But unlike restaurants that quickly transitioned to takeout, you can’t offer putt-putt togo.

Gottier had to figure out how to reopen and still offer the interactive game experience during the pandemic. He and his staff cleared Greenleaf’s Pool Room next-door to allow customers enough space to social distance before their time to play.

“We will have our bellhop come get them when they’re round is ready,” Gottier stated. “Instead of putting people off every five or ten minutes we will put them off every 20 minutes or so, so they’ll be able to play 4 or 5 holes before the next round comes.”

Employees will also sanitize the golf balls and clubs between each use.

Gottier wanted to reopen safely without watering down the interactive experience that his customers are used to.

“We weren’t going to open the doors until we are sure we can provide a really great quality time where people can feel safe,” he said.

However, Richmond will begin Phase One of reopening on Friday, which is two weeks after much of the state. Gottier hopes to welcome back customers during the first weekend of July.

Chad Chadwick, CEO of Tang and Biscuit Shuffleboard and Social Club in Scott’s Addition, furloughed about 50 employees when the pandemic began.

“We are all about the social experience. We are a social club so social distancing is kind of difficult,” Chadwick explained. “It’s all about interacting with people, which is some sad irony during the current pandemic.”

On Tuesday, Chadwick was among several business owners who spoke to Mayor Levar Stoney via videoconference about the city’s goal to reopen.

“We are eagerly anticipating, eagerly waiting guidance and opportunities to reopen the doors,” Chadwick said. “We don’t want to make anybody sick. We are concerned about people’s health and safety.”

At 21,000 square feet, the West Moore Street venue houses the world’s largest indoor shuffleboard courts. They also offer various interactive games alongside food and drink since August 2018.

Tang and Biscuit aims to utilize their massive space to their advantage. Chadwick described his plan as “very solid, socially distance club plan.”

“We will be moving furniture around, sanitizing heavily, face masks, all of the CDC guidelines we already made plans for. We hope to see everybody soon,” he said.

He plans to open when locations are allowed to have people inside, not just outside. That date will be determined by what the city and state permit.

Bingo Beer Company on West Broad Street has served alcohol togo from their brewery since the pandemic. They’ve also hosted pop-up dinners served from their kitchen.

But, a major draw to their Scott’s Addition restaurant is the classic arcade with pinball machines and skee-ball. The games sit next to ping pong and pool tables.

Bingo’s General Manager Chris Brumfield said they’re taking their cues from gyms when deciding how and when to reopen.

“If 50 people in a gym can touch dumbbells then 50 people can touch joysticks,” he stated. “Space is not something we have shortage of thankfully.”

His staff will routinely clean the arcade games and offer sanitation stations so customers can wipe the machines down themselves. A cleaning log will be visible to customers.

“If it reassures you there’s sanitizer available for you to use yourself then we will definitely do that, as well,” Brumfield said.

Bingo will require reservations to avoid long lines and crowds outside their doors.

They plan to open their patio to customers in a few weeks, but the games will have to wait.

“I think a rush to be first is not helpful right now,” Brumfield said.