LISLE – Lisle Lanes' husband and wife owners Cesar and Grace Canonigo vividly recall the aftermath of the April 18 flood that devastated their bowling alley.
"We waded through the flooded Lisle Lanes parking lot and unlocked the door, just hoping that the water damage was minimal," Cesar Canonigo recalled. "We flicked on the lights and it looked like a glass mirror was on top of all the lanes. Everything was under over a foot of water."
After four months of restoration, acquiring new building and floodproof permits from the village of Lisle, and an ongoing insurance claim battle, the Canonigos are preparing to once again open Lisle Lanes. They've targeted Sept. 7 as a reopening date.
"It was an uphill battle," Grace Canonigo said. "The lanes were in very bad shape after the flood, but we are happy to say that we overcame all the obstacles and will soon be again open for business."
Following the flood, it took two days and a dozen pumps to remove all the water from the 32 flooded lanes, Cesar Canonigo said.
The gravity of the situation then hit the two owners. All the lanes, gutters and score keeping electronics were ruined, the pinsetter machines were badly damaged, even some of the bowling pins were unsalvageable.
The Canonigos faced an ultimatum of leveling the building and selling the property, or beginning a massive renovation project, which included gutting and installing new lanes, filing for federal flood insurance relief, and attaining a nonresidential floodproofing permit from the Village of Lisle to prevent future damage.
In all, it would cost more than $1 million to fully restore Lisle Lanes, Cesar Canonigo said.
But, for the Canonigos, it was not as simple as finding the most cost-effective solution.
"We have put almost 20 years of our life into Lisle Lanes," Cesar Canonigo said. "Were we just supposed to destroy the building and call it quits? We still believe in our business model and the sport of bowling. Our decision to renovate Lisle Lanes was based on our convictions and the years of family history entrenched in the business."
Cesar Canonigo emigrated from the Phillipines to the United States in 1968, when America was in the midst of its first Vietnam War draft lottery. He promptly enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as a corpsman medic at Naval Station Great Lakes in Lake County.
He returned home from deployment in Vietnam, met Grace during a leave from the Navy and the two married after Cesar was discharged in 1973. He then attended University of Illinois at Chicago, graduated with a degree in accounting and, for the next two decades, worked for financial accounting firm Pannell Kerr Forster while Grace Canonigo worked at Grant Hospital.
In 1994, the couple invested with a group of friends and purchased Lisle Lanes. During the last 19 years, while the other initial investors sold their shares, Cesar and Grace Canonigo held firm, maintaining the only bowling alley in Lisle.
"I have always loved bowling," Cesar Canonigo said. "So we are honored to not only be one of the few bowling alleys in the area, but we are also a family-owned and operated business."
But, the family's recent road recovery has been a rocky one. After the flood and subsequent four month closure, the Canonigos were forced to downsize their staff, retaining only five of the 18 former employees, according to Cesar Canonigo.
Additionally, the owners are in the midst of an ongoing appeals process with the Federal Government, attempting to claim FEMA relief money for the damage incurred upon the bowling alley.
When assessors first inspected Lisle Lanes, the Canonigos were denied federal insurance relief because "the 32 lanes were deemed a basement, a couple feet below gradient," Cesar Canonigo said.
If the Lisle Lanes owners lose out on their appeals process as well, they plan to go to litigation, he said.
Now, with no federal insurance relief and no commercial insurance provider in the area – flood insurance is often withheld from coverage policies based on "specific exclusion" clauses – the Canonigos took a gamble and invested more than $1 million in order to repair the damaged bowling alley.
"We believe that we will be awarded the insurance money that we are entitled to," Cesar Canonigo said.
He said that their love for bowling and dedication to the community was ultimately the swing vote in the decision whether to sell the property or rebuild Lisle Lanes.
When the business reopens, it will with 32 brand new synthetic lanes, refurbished pinsetting systems, a floodproofed foundation and overhead electronic scoring screens, the owners said.
While Cesar and Grace Canonigo are excited to show off their new facility and equipment, they are equally elated to get back to day-to-day operations.
"It's been the longest four months of my life," Cesar Canonigo said. "Thankfully, we will open right in time for the start bowling leagues."