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Looking for normalcy on New Year’s Eve at the bowling alley

As Europe’s “The Final Countdown” faded from the sound system, co-owner David Richardson’s voice crackled over the speakers inside Greenmount Bowl in Hampstead.

Richardson led the bowlers in a 60-second countdown and asked them to raise a glass once the seconds ticked under 10. He shouted the numbers until they hit zero and yelled “Happy New Year” with the crowd backing him up. “Auld Lang Syne” struck a familiar tune, and some people sang along while others sipped their drinks and went back to bowling amid the circling, colored lights and darkened alleys.

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The clock on the wall read 1:43 p.m., far from the traditional New Year’s Eve atmosphere.

These fliers were available to customers at Greenmount Bowl in Hampstead or the annual New Year's Eve party that took place. Dec. 31, 2020.
These fliers were available to customers at Greenmount Bowl in Hampstead or the annual New Year's Eve party that took place. Dec. 31, 2020. (Courtesy Photo)

Then again, 2020 was far from a traditional year to celebrate. But Greenmount wasn’t about to let the COVID-19 pandemic get in the way of its usual year-end festivities.

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Neither was Thunderhead Bowl & Grill in Taneytown, which cleared out its afternoon open bowling crowd to prepare for a “Not so Normal” New Year’s Eve party.

Richardson said he and his wife Nicole, Greenmount’s other owner, came up with the idea when they took over the lanes four years ago of creating a fun atmosphere and doing it in shifts throughout the day. Kids and adults alike could share in the party, Richardson said.

Greenmount’s final shift was set for Thursday night, and Richardson said food and drink sales would stop before 10 but customers could continue bowling until midnight.

Every other lane was available at both Greenmount and Thunderhead, for duckpin and tenpin bowling, since alleys are operating at 50% capacity amid the pandemic, and masks were required unless people were eating or drinking.

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“This is our biggest day of the year, believe it or not. It’s disappointing, because normally we’d have people out the door and we’d be wall to wall, but … hey, at least we’re in business,” Richardson said. “We turned away so many people. We’re doing it just by online reservations. And it just kills you, but some businesses aren’t even functioning right now. People are dying to do stuff, they really are.”

Hampstead resident Krista Muhles and her family came to Greenmount to celebrate her son Jacob’s 12th birthday. Muhles and her husband Paul shared Lane 12 with Jacob and their daughter Madison, 17. Muhles said the family planned on coming to Greenmount on Wednesday before finding the lanes filled with league bowlers, so Thursday worked instead.

Only then, after making their online reservation, did the Muhles family realize they’d also be ringing in a new year in the middle of the afternoon.

“When I was a kid we did rock-and-bowl late at night, from like 1 to 3 [a.m.], something crazy,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that we have to stay one lane apart ... but it’s still fun. I like the music.”

Thunderhead owner Mark Kraus and general manager Jodi Narowanski came up with the “Not So Normal” New Year’s Eve bash for this year, similar to Greenmount’s event with food and games of bowling specials throughout the day. The party’s main event was set for 7-9:30 p.m., and Kraus said he was planning a countdown around 9. At that time, Kraus said he was ready to declare a Happy New Year since it would be midnight in the South Sandwich Islands, off the coast of Argentina in South America.

Nick Price "Marv" from Hanover, Pennsylvania bowls with his friend, Doug Niemeier "Harry" from Frederick on New Years Eve. A "Not So Normal" New Year's Eve event taking place at Thunderhead Bowl in Taneytown.
Nick Price "Marv" from Hanover, Pennsylvania bowls with his friend, Doug Niemeier "Harry" from Frederick on New Years Eve. A "Not So Normal" New Year's Eve event taking place at Thunderhead Bowl in Taneytown. (Jeffrey F. Bill/For Carroll County Times)

Hence the “Not So Normal” idea.

“We decided to go with a practice countdown, so we can practice getting rid of this year,” Kraus said. “And then they can go home and have the real one. So yeah, just make the best of it.”

Like Greenmount, Kraus and Narowanski said they had to turn people away for Thunderhead’s evening party. But he expected to have 14 lanes filled with bowling revelers eager to say goodbye to 2020.

As Thunderhead’s daytime bowlers made their way out of the alley, and employees began the cleaning process in time for the evening festivities, a pair of college friends finished up their string of games before making their way back home. Nick Price of Hanover, Pennsylvania, met up with Doug Niemeier of Frederick for some tenpin action.

They weren’t staying for the “Not So Normal: New Year’s Eve party, but the men agreed being in the bowling alley felt like a thread of normalcy as they entered 2021.

“When I got here at 2, pretty much every [other] lane was full,” Niemeier said. “Families getting out, it was nice.”

Added Price: “I’m a teacher, so I’m really hoping for some normalcy. It’s really difficult right now with everything going on.”

Doug Niemeier "Harry" and friend Nick Price "Marv" bowl on New Years Eve. A "Not So Normal" New Year's Eve event taking place at Thunderhead Bowl in Taneytown.
Doug Niemeier "Harry" and friend Nick Price "Marv" bowl on New Years Eve. A "Not So Normal" New Year's Eve event taking place at Thunderhead Bowl in Taneytown. (Jeffrey F. Bill/For Carroll County Times)

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