Web Master By Day Escape Room Entrepreneur By Night

By Mike Danahey
The Courier-News, Elgin, Ill.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Keisha Thomas has recently opened “Escapade 360” which includes two escape rooms. In escape room games, players head into a themed room and have to use elements of the room to find clues and solve a series of puzzles to escape within a set time limit.

The Courier-News, Elgin, Ill.

The latest gaming craze has hit downtown Elgin with the arrival of Escapade 360, a business with two escape rooms, one with a Sherlock Holmes theme, the other a Leonardo da Vinci theme.

Over the weekend, entrepreneur Keisha Thomas of Belvidere had a soft opening for the business in a 3,000-square-foot space on the third floor at 77 S. Riverside Drive. A grand opening with ribbon cutting is set for Aug 9.

“This is great for Elgin,” Elgin City Council member Tish Powell said. “It’s unique businesses like this that will draw people downtown.”

With escape room games, players head into a themed room and have to use elements of the room to find clues and solve a series of puzzles to escape within a set time limit.

“Downtown Elgin proved a great location, because we were able to get a spot right on the lovely Riverwalk that would allow us to not only open the rooms we want now but provides us space to grow,” Thomas said. “The space was affordable and near a community of business owners that has been very friendly and welcoming. The city was also very helpful and supportive as we went through the necessary processes to be able to operate within Elgin.”

Such gaming is springing up across the country. Online and classroom versions also are growing in popularity. There are already escape room businesses in Aurora, Naperville, McHenry, St. Charles, Schaumburg, Wheaton, quite a few other suburbs and in Chicago.

Thomas is sole owner of the Elgin operation, and this his her first business. Her day job is as a webmaster for a health-care system.

Thomas said that her experience traveling introduced her to escape rooms. During her travels, she learned about the game, which she shared with her husband, Dan Vance, on trips to nearby Chicago as well as in Barcelona.

“Last year I discovered escape rooms and I found that I really enjoyed them, too. In addition to the inventiveness of the puzzles, the chance to interact and collaborate with people, both friends and strangers, in a real-world setting was appealing to me,” Thomas said. “Activities like movies and baseball games may be entertaining, but they’re more passive pastimes. Escape rooms get people moving and talking with one another.”

Currently, the Escapade 360 holds a Sherlock Adventure, with a Sherlock Holmes theme, and is set to open The da Vinci Experience within the next couple of weeks, Thomas said. The rooms are set up so that anywhere from 2-8 players can take part at any one time.

“Generally, there isn’t cause to play any room more than once. Players either escape, in which case they solved the room, or they don’t, and in those instances they’re often curious about what they didn’t get, and we share that with them,” Thomas said. “The lack of replayability is part of why we want to eventually expand to a total of four rooms at this location.”

Thomas noted that work has included making its lobby space in the office building look like an airport terminal. Investments in flooring, lighting, wall coverings, and other items covered converting the office spaces into the game rooms.

“We’re really proud of the transformation. People who never saw the old look may not be able to fully appreciate everything that was done, but we really tried to design a whole experience for our travelers,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the business got off to a slow start, but it is building momentum. She has stepped up her marketing efforts to include offering a discount coupon, launching a social media push, putting together a press kit, meeting other Elgin business people and joining the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

“We’ve had more inquiries than actual teams run through, showing us that there’s definite interest. But the teams we did have were varied and a lot of fun,” Thomas said. “Many people come in not knowing what to expect or how to begin, but once they get into the swing of things, they’re all in.”

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