Activists claim they were denied service at bowling alley

A group of activists allege that they were denied service at a bowling alley in Bishop, Calif. during the annual pilgrimage to the former Manzanar, Calif. concentration camp.

Leaders from the the Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage Committee, the Florin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, the Council on American Islamic Relations – Sacramento Valley, among others, sent a letter to the Back Alley Bowling, Bar, and Grill’s Owner Thomas L. Flesia and manager Helen French and Trina Favel, which was posted on the Manzanar Committee’s blog. The letter states that Asian American and Muslim American young adults and senior citizens were denied service at  Back Alley Bowl three times on the night of April 25.

Group members went to the bowling alley at around 9:45 p.m. when the “‘open’ sign outside was lit and the establishment was operating,” the letter states. “Three bowling alley lanes were open and lit with two of them occupied by a white family group. Some patrons were drinking at the bar and eating inside the restaurant.”

The letter states that a “young clerk” was “flippant and rude,” saying the group was unable to bowl because the establishment’s computer system was down.

The group asked if the computer could be rebooted “offered to wait for a repair person to come, to use the vacant lane, wait for the family to finish, pay cash if the cash register was down, hang out buying food and beverages, or even just watch the family bowl. They were met with flimsy excuses, lies, a statement that the family had been bowling with the system down for the past three hours, and the clerk saying they were shutting down.”

The group left the bowling alley, but “some who had remained outside said another employee had walked to the lit ‘open’ sign and turned it off while the group was inside,” the letter states.

Upon learning about the situation, a couple of group members returned to the bowling alley, but they too were refused, the letter states.

At around 10:30 p.m., the group saw some employees go outside to take out the trash.

“They politely asked to speak to the original male employee they had talked with previously. He came outside inappropriately carrying a three-foot long stick and continuously raised the stick above his shoulders while speaking to our group.”

The activists requested to speak with the manager. She repeated her staff’s “claim that the computer system was down and said they were shutting down early. …When asked if the group could come again the next day or get a discount, the manager claimed that she didn’t know if or when they would open up the bowling alley again. The manager said she was sorry that the group ‘did not get the response that you wanted,’” the letter said.

Upon having contacted other Bishop, Calif. residents, and reading Yelp reviews, “we learned of more instances of Back Alley Bowl discrimination, including people met with racist stares with which people of color are all too familiar,” the letter said, adding that “The Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage Committee had experienced this type of bigotry before at the bowling alley.

“We do not see this as a matter of a computer being down, misunderstanding, perception, or employee confusion, though these may have played a part. It’s a matter of denying services in public facilities to people of color and religious minorities.

“We would like to arrange a meeting at a convenient location for us to discuss what might be done to prevent such actions from ever happening again.”

Manager Helen French declined to comment to the Nichi Bei Weekly, she said via a message relayed by someone who answered the phone at the bowling alley.

Brandon Miyasaki, Florin Manzanar Pilgrimage Committee Youth Coordinator, told the Nichi Bei Weekly that “an L.A. supporter called Back Alley Bowl … asking why they haven’t responded to our letter. The manager Helen French said ‘no comment’ and hung up the phone.”

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