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A debate where nobody has the answer


It was less than a year ago when Russell Allen, vice president of operations for Allen Theaters, announced a major expansion for the Telshor 12 complex in Las Cruces.

Along with a new game room, bar, restaurant and party room, the 31,000-square-foot project also called for a 16-lane bowling alley, bringing bowling back to Las Cruces for the first time since 2018, when 10 Pin Alley closed.

I’ve never been an avid bowler, but for some reason, it bothers me that Las Cruces doesn’t have a bowling alley. All the tiny towns I worked in during the 1980s and 90s at the start of my journalism career had bowling alleys. Bowling leagues were one of the few forms of entertainment available.

Allen said during a recent radio interview that he has shelved plans for the expansion and can’t foresee taking it up again. All the money that was going to be used for that is now needed to keep as many people employed for as long as he can, Allen said.

Last week he announced the Video 4 Theater on El Paseo would close after a 48-year run.

No business has been hit as hard by the restrictions imposed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic as theaters. While bars, barber shops, tattoo parlors and other businesses have reopened on a limited basis, theaters in New Mexico remain closed.

Allen argues that movie theaters have reopened safely in neighboring states. There’s a lot required -- reduced capacity to allow for social distancing; mandatory facemasks; staggered starting times to ensure groups aren’t entering or leaving at the same time; and constant sanitation. But it can be done, he said.

And I believe him. But it’s a hard time to call for looser restrictions. We just set a record for new infections, breaking the record set the day before.

New Mexico’s unique system of government, in which an unpaid Legislature works in alternating 30-day and 60-day sessions, is poorly equipped to deal with an emergency like this. It falls to the governor to act.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a former state secretary of health, has taken a more restrictive approach than many of her peers, and that has led to criticism from business leaders and political opponents. I disagreed with her decision to shut down local stores, further tilting the playing field for the big boxes. But I appreciated the weightiness of that decision and all the factors that went into it.

The Legislature should have a full and vigorous discussion when it meets in January, and the governor should be receptive to its concerns. But nobody should go into that discussion thinking they know the answers.

They should start with an understanding that all participants have the same goals, and none possess the perfect formula that will balance business and health needs, allowing us to reopen without suffering. 

One of the most frustrating things about the recent spike is that there is no obvious reason for it. The weather hasn’t turned cold yet. Schools are still teaching remotely. Things we had hoped to do this fall, like a return to high school sports, have been postponed.

If we’re setting new records now, what happens when it does get cold?

The fact this pandemic has hit us during an election year has not helped in the formation of a unified national response to the virus. Perhaps after the votes have been counted, we can start treating COVID-19 like a common enemy.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

Walt Rubel