SALISBURY — Despite spending an estimated $20,000 to $30,000 on proper sanitation and safety features, Joe’s Playland was forced to close when the state moved arcades from Phase 3 of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan to Phase 4.
The state told the arcade’s management late last week that Joe’s Playland needed to close after it slowly reopened with reduced hours a couple of weeks ago.
Owner Fred Abdulla said arcades were previously included in Phase 3 and he did not understand what changed. It is unclear when Phase 4 will begin since the state has indicated that will be when a COVID-19 vaccine is created.
Joe’s Playland, which typically has about 50 to 75 full- and part-time employees between the arcade and its food stands at 15 Broadway, had to lay off roughly 25 employees after the arcade shut down, Abdulla said.
“We just felt really bad for them,” he said, noting that many of his employees are young adults trying to save money for college.
The arcade recently hired and trained employees in anticipation of Phase 3, Abdulla said.
“This has been no small task financially,” he said, explaining how he has been working with the state to ensure the facility is adhering to all guidelines.
“We are a seasonal business and we can’t survive this if we have an unknown date to open,” Abdulla said.
Abdulla said the arcade spent a significant amount of money on installing game dividers, hands-free handwashing stations with dryers and sanitizing wipe stations throughout the facility.
The arcade also purchased a hospital grade disinfecting gun to spray down machines at the end of each day, and encouraged guests to use game cards, as opposed to coins and tickets, for more contactless play.
“We did everything we could to keep it safe,” Abdulla said, noting it was a bit of a “double standard” that casinos were permitted to open while arcades were not.
“I know it’s a pandemic and I know that there are safety issues, but it’s not a question of trying to close people up,” he said of the state. “They should be in the business of trying to open everybody up safely.”
Abdulla also met with a few state representatives, who reportedly were in favor of his efforts to reopen, he said.
He is hopeful the state will reconsider, saying it should consider a Phase “3.1.”
“I don’t think they should clump all arcades into one category,” he said. “They should look at each one individually to see what we’ve done and how safe we’ve made it for our customers and our employees.
On Friday, Joe’s Playland published a post on its Facebook page, informing the public of its immediate closure and asking for people to contact local and state officials if they wish to see the arcade reopen. The post also said although the arcade was closed, its ice cream stand and Lee’s Seafood would remain open for business.
By Sunday afternoon, the post received more than 1,000 comments, 1,800 reactions and 3,300 shares.
Abdulla said he was “overwhelmed” by the outpouring of support he had seen, noting that Joe’s Playland has been a staple on Salisbury Beach for over 100 years.
With the summer season already halfway over and spring sales already lost, “It’s kind of critical that we open now,” he said.
Staff writer Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.