Escape rooms statewide are trying to solve a puzzle of their own: Can they navigate this pandemic without being forced to shut down for good? For many, the answer is no.
"Colorado has had the highest number of escape-room facilities per capita of all the states," says Kurt Leinbach, owner of Rabbit Hole Recreation Services in Louisville. "At one time we had 92 companies operating in the state, and are down to 65, I think."
He's unsure, in part, because escape rooms keep closing. The state has already lost Room 5280 in Boulder, Puzzah in Denver (even before the pandemic) and Lights Out Escape Rooms and Social Lounge in Littleton. And if another stay-at-home order goes into effect without additional government aid, that number may plummet drastically.
Rabbit Hole Recreation Services, home to three sixty-minute escape games — one ironically about a deadly virus trying to wipe out humanity — shut down on March 18 and reopened May 8. Leinbach says the time closed was agonizing.
"You just didn’t know from day to day," he recalls. "We were assuming we were going to go out of business the entire time. Our landlord cut us a break for a little bit, but we didn’t get breaks from our insurance companies or anything."
With so many escape rooms crumbling in the wake of the virus, Leinbach was relieved to be able to open back up, but it still wasn't an ideal situation. Business was slow, and the large groups that usually packed the escape rooms were gone. Then things picked up in August. In the past few weeks, he's finally seeing "somewhat normal numbers" coming through the door, he says. Barring another lockdown, Rabbit Hole will have made it through the pandemic fairly unscathed.
But more COVID-19 restrictions are hitting counties across Colorado as the virus spreads. The governor is warning that hospital beds statewide may soon be over capacity. November, December and January — usually Rabbit Hole's busiest months — are also projected to be some of the deadliest. Worries about new stay-at-home orders are plaguing business owners.
Still Rabbit Hole and others in the industry are banding together, hoping to help each other through the pandemic.
Conundrum Escape Room, Clueology Escape Room, Time Emporium Escape Room and Rabbit Hole have all partnered to promote each other's facilities. "We give them a personalized discount card, and they can go and book games and get 10 percent off," Leinbach says.
Rebecca Ross of Epic Escape Game, which has a downtown location and one in south Denver, says that the escape-room community has been supportive.
"There are Facebook groups where a lot of us owners go in and strategize with each other, and some of those are international," she says. "I talked with escape-room owners from Germany, England and Hong Kong. Escape-room owners are an open, generous community."
Some of their businesses have stayed open with virtual offerings. Right after the stay-at-home order went into effect, Epic started hosting "online audio escape games." For $15 a person, people can play from their own homes with friends and family.
She was also able to do a National Treasure-themed outdoor puzzle hunt at the Castle Rock outlets in July.
As COVID-19 shut businesses down, Ross worked harder to make sure she had alternative solutions to keep Epic going.
"We’ve been bringing in enough to break even," she says. "Without the support of the landlords and the support of some of the government programs, we never would have survived. Even to this day, it's up in the air if I’m going to break even or lose several thousand this month."
For small-business owners, there is no escaping the threat of another shutdown, and despite all the alternative solutions and community support, there is still a dark cloud above their heads as they wonder what the next few months will bring.
"Without additional government support, I don’t know if any of the escape rooms in town would survive another lockdown," Ross says. "We're taking it month to month and hoping we survive."
Rabbit Hole Recreation is located at 1156 West Dillon Road in Louisville. Epic Escape Game is located at 1750 Gilpin Street in Denver. Both are currently open for in-person bookings with varying prices.
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