SINGAPORE - Pent-up demand for pool and billiards tables saw factory worker Boon Chua and his two friends having to visit two cue sports centres on Saturday (July 4) before they were able to get a table at Pool Fusion at Middle Road.
With billiards and pool halls reopening on Saturday after a three-month closure due to Covid-19, cue sports enthusiasts wasted no time in filling up the venues, though operators fear that the strict physical distancing rules could hit their businesses.
Unlike other sports facilities such as stadiums, swimming pools, gyms and bowling centres, commercial billiard and pool halls were not permitted to open when Phase 2 of the post-circuit breaker period began on June 19. They are regulated under the Public Entertainment Act, and were given the green light to resume operations on Saturday.
But it was not business as usual when The Straits Times visited King's Pool at Ang Mo Kio and Pool Fusion on Saturday afternoon. Customers had to wear masks and use alternate tables and cues were distributed at the counter. The cues and balls were also cleaned after each use.
William Ang, owner of Pool Fusion, said the centre was full within five minutes of its reopening at midnight. Safety measures mean that they have to cap the number of customers at 50 persons or 25 per cent of its original capacity measured by the premises' occupant load, whichever is lower, at any time.
Pool Fusion is able to accommodate only 22 people and open 11 of its 17 tables - it could host at least 80 people pre-Covid 19. Ang, 44, said: "Since we opened again at 1pm (after the midnight shift), there's been a lot of people and we've had to turn them away."
Chua, 27, told ST: "We came at around 1.30pm and there weren't many people but it filled up very quickly. I don't find (the measures) troublesome, they're for our safety."
While business may be bustling, Ang is not celebrating due to uncertain times ahead. "It's a very social crowd here... we cannot sustain our rental if our occupancy is only at 25 per cent," said Ang, adding that his $30,000 monthly rent will be waived till July before it resumes in full next month.
King's Pool marketing director Charlene Chai has similar concerns, adding that the venue has increased its table rates by $1. She said: "We're required by law to alternate the tables, which means it's half the sales generated, but our rental isn't going to be 50 per cent off. It's going to take a longer period of time to adjust to this."
King's Pool has 28 pool tables of which 12 are available for booking in two-hour slots and five for walk-in customers. The venue also has five snooker tables, though only three will be open to customers. Booking slots from 10am to 10pm were snapped up within hours on Friday when they were made available.
The response was also good for Aspire Cuesports at HomeTeamNS Bukit Batok when booking slots for its six tables opened on Friday, said its events and marketing associate May Kwek. The venue has three tables for walk-in customers.
Engineer Ho Jia Wei, who secured a slot from 10am to 4pm at King's Pool, felt the safety measures implemented were effective and found the booking process efficient.
"If it was the same as before, where all tables are open and there's no crowd limit, I'd be worried because this is a confined environment and if people start coughing and being inconsiderate, it's quite bad," said the 25-year-old, who plays at least once a week.
"But with these safety measures, I'm quite confident. It's good that pool halls are open but we must still exercise caution and not be complacent."