Fremont family-owned bowling alley closes for good

A fixture in Fremont for five decades is closing for good. Cloverleaf bowling alley is the latest iconic business to fall victim to the pandemic.

“Obviously been here your whole life,” said Owner Mike Hillman. “It’s rather difficult to be going through this right now.”

Family owned for 57 years, Mike Hillman’s grandparents bought Cloverleaf bowling alley. More than a bowling center in Fremont, it’s become a haven for senior leagues, teens and the community.

The owners fought hard when developers tried to tear it down two years ago to make way for housing. With three years left on its lease, Covid is a fight they can't win.

“You still have rent, you have utilities, bills to pay,” said Hillman.

Lanes have been silent since March 15. It’s been 20 weeks without income and the future is too uncertain.

“There’s never been a date where bowling centers will be able to circle on a calendar and be able to open up,” said Hillman. “It’s just wait and see, wait and see and try to find out what phase we are on.”

Experts said institutions going away could have long-term implications.

“I fear we are not only going to lose venerable old intuitions like skating rinks, like bowling alleys but new businesses trying to open up aren’t simply going to make it because they don't have the runway to create the clientele,” said Colleen Haight, who chairs the Economics Department at San Jose State.

“It is possible that all indoor activities where people gather are in jeopardy,” said Mike Leong who owns Bel Mateo Bowl.

Bel Mateo Bowl has been open for 63 years. Leong is devastated about Cloverleaf.

“Cloverleaf has probably been the model of every bowling center in the country,” said Leong.

Leong worries about his business and invested $35,000 to make it safe.

“We did what we feel everything the CDC suggested,” said Leong.

He’s frustrated that County Health is quick to shut the industry down without visiting. At the business, thermal cameras check patrons’ temperature, partitions sit between bowling lanes, touchless restroom doors, an air conditioner purifier, and gloves for bowling balls.

“I was hoping and praying the center would be able to survive these last wrenching five months and open its doors,” said Hillman.

Hillman read a card left at the front door on Thursday. He said he will miss the people the most.

“It’s going to be a big hit for the schools, our special needs, and the families of Fremont,” said Hillman. “It’s going to hit them pretty hard.”

Most bowling centers are family operated. Cloverleaf used the PPP loan they received for payroll. Hillman believes the government needs to do more to help businesses, the industry, survive.