City officials have gone too far in shutting down a bowling alley and keeping it closed nearly two weeks after a man was killed outside in the parking lot, its owner says.
Mark Williamson, owner of the Bowl-Inn on Bailey Avenue, also says his business has been unfairly portrayed in the aftermath of the June 9 shooting that left a 28-year-old man dead.
The fatal shooting, as well as a non-fatal shooting Feb. 25 in proximity to the bowling alley, have been improperly associated with his business, Williamson said.
The victim in the shooting 12 days ago was a customer – he picked up an order of wings – but was sitting in his taxi cab in the parking lot at least 40 minutes after the bowling alley closed when he was shot, according to Williamson.
"How can I control that?" he said.
Williamson insists there was no incident – a police spokesman characterized it as a "dispute" – inside the bowling alley prior to the shooting. The bowling alley owner said he gave investigators access to the footage from the nine security cameras he has inside the business. The footage shows nothing happened, he said.
Police have not disclosed any details about a possible motive in the shooting. No arrests have been announced.
The victim in the Feb. 25 shooting also had purchased food from the bowling alley, but he was shot while walking to his car parked in a lot next door. Williamson estimated the distance where that victim was parked as about 75 yards away from the building.
"I'd like someone to tell me how that's my fault," he said of the earlier shooting.
Buffalo Police Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said he did not have specific information to either confirm or refute the details of Williamson's version of the events, but added that, ultimately, a property owner is responsible for what happens on a property. Having two shootings within a four-month span is what led to the city's decision to order the business to shut down, Rinaldo said.
"The closure is based on the number of incidents and the severity," he said. A business owner, if they want to challenge the city's action, is entitled to a hearing, he said.
The city's Department of Permit and Inspection Services has scheduled a hearing on the matter for July 16. Williamson and his attorney are trying to have the date moved up.
Since December 2014, the city has shut down at least seven businesses after instances of violence, including shootings, a stabbing and a massive brawl.
Williamson, who worked as a manager at Voelker's Lanes on Elmwood Avenue for 18 years before buying the Bowl-Inn 12 years ago, touted security procedures he said he instituted at his business around three years ago. He has two armed security guards stationed at the front door, and they also monitor the parking lot every 15 or 20 minutes. Customers who appear to be younger than 30 must leave their identification with security as they enter; they pick it up as they leave, according to the owner.
The city ordered the bowling center to close on June 10, the day after the shooting, which killed David A. Lopez of Lackawanna. The order issued by the police department cites "a dire emergency" that "currently exists" in the area of the business at 727 Bailey. It cites the two shootings.
The business has a bar that serves alcohol as well as a kitchen that prepares food, usually until 4 a.m. It sometimes closes earlier than 4 a.m. outside of the main bowling season in the fall and winter, Williamson said.
The closure affects more than just his own bottom line. It hurts the roughly 30 employees and their families who rely on the paycheck from the business, he said. The closure has also forced him to cancel planned events, including an outing for a local youth center. Local charitable organizations also host fundraisers there. "We're an asset to the community," Williamson said.
Williamson provided The Buffalo News with copies of letters of support from area organizations, including churches, and customers who vouched for the business. He plans to provide copies to city officials in upcoming discussions about when the business can reopen.
"The longer they take, the longer my staff is out of a job," he said.