Friday, January 21, 2022

How Los Angeles Quest Owners Recovered From COVID-19

Once in Hollywood, getting on a luxury train on a weekday morning was rare. Before the pandemic, leather-upholstered chairs, framed artwork, silver cocktail shakers, ornate keys, and intricate puzzles in the Highland Avenue one-way ticket escape room remained largely untouched until late afternoon.

But shortly after Maze Rooms reopened their Hollywood location earlier this year, amid the COVID-19 crisis, quest owners and their spouses Ruslan Balashov and Natalie Lapidus saw a significant increase in the number of appointments in the morning and afternoon on weekdays. which were often ordered by people suffering from unemployment and wanting to escape. not only a room, but also reality for a short time.

“The model, market and consumer behavior have really changed as a result of the pandemic,” says Lapidus. “We are starting from scratch.”

Maze Rooms is a challenging activity for people 8+ who enjoy spectacular performances, problem solving and teamwork, seven venues throughout Los Angeles. Each of these destinations contains exciting games that span many genres, from space missions to underwater travel.

In addition to a one-way ticket that invites players to defuse a bomb attached to a luxury locomotive, Hollywood Maze on Highland also features a circus-themed illusion world and a pharaoh’s tomb in ancient Egypt.

“We were essentially one of the first” escape room companies in Los Angeles, Lapidus says.

Natalie Lapidus (left) and Ruslan Balashov pose in the “Pharaoh’s Grave” quest in Hollywood.

(Myung J. Jung / Los Angeles Times) #

In September 2014, Balashov and Lapidus emigrated from their home country, Russia, where quests were already common entertainment. By December, they had launched their first quest.

“It was pretty scary to move to another country – no family, nothing,” says Lapidus. “The idea came to him:“ Okay, let’s open the quest in Los Angeles ”.

“We brought our son here, and I really liked this city for the sun, mood and all that,” adds Balashov. “I said, ‘Hey, we have to move here. We have to do something. “

By March 2020, Balashov and Lapidus had expanded the franchise to include more than 15 rooms and about 25 employees located in Hollywood, Culver City, Tarzan and other cities. But when a public health emergency forced businesses to close, the owners had no choice but to lay off their employees, some of whom had worked at Maze Rooms for years.

“I can’t even explain this feeling when you come to your employees and say, ‘Guys, we have to shut down,” says Lapidus. “People were crying.”

“It was a very nervous situation … because we are self-employed,” adds Balashov. “We have two children, schools are closed. It was a nightmare. So, you don’t know what to do. You have to stay in the apartment with your children and you don’t know what to expect tomorrow. “

Split image of a man standing and touching the ceiling in a blue room, and the same person hanging upside down.

Ruslan Balashov demonstrates an element of optical illusion in the “World of Illusions” quest in Hollywood.

(Myung J. Jung / Los Angeles Times) #

It didn’t help that the nature of their business defied categorization. The government periodically laid out clear plans and instructions for restaurants and retail stores, but “escape”? – says Balashov. “What is it?”

The Los Angeles County Department of Health has classified Maze Rooms as an amusement park, but this is not the case. But it is also not a museum, movie theater, or other standard entertainment – which means he was not eligible for financial aid from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“We were somewhere in between,” says Lapidus. “It was really difficult. We are still slowly recovering. This is step by step, little by little. “

To no avail, Lapidus and Balashov have repeatedly emailed the Ministry of Health, explaining that they are operating on a much smaller and, in their opinion, safer scale. They pleaded with the government to allow the Labyrinth Rooms to open earlier – to make an exception.

They did not return to work until April 2021 – the same month Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and other true amusement parks reopened.

Immediately upon their return, the Los Angeles quest pioneers could no longer afford to hire staff, which caused Balashov to do everything on site, from disinfecting rooms after each game to replacing a random light bulb, which he hastily did out of habit last month while spending The Times guided tour of the establishment.

It’s like they just moved to Los Angeles again.

“It was a really tough year,” says Lapidus. “I have a pair of gray hair. … And it’s still very unstable. “

The Labyrinth Rooms are now fully staffed again and equipped with all manner of pandemic safety measures, including shifted reception times and hand sanitizing stations, as well as disposable face masks and gloves available upon request.

During the coronavirus outage, some escape companies went online, offering virtual alternatives to the personal experience of decrypting complex ciphers and unlocking hidden passages.

“To be honest, I don’t believe in this remote. [experience], says Lapidus. “Some people liked it because I think they were very bored during the pandemic. But … we didn’t realize it. ”

“We created these games because they are offline,” adds Balashov. “People can actually come and play and enjoy the game in real time, in the real world, instead of sitting in front of their computers. And it’s very important that we ask people to turn off their phones, because … you don’t need any extraneous knowledge when you play the quest. “

Maze rooms

  • Location: 8632 S Sepulveda Blvd., 11901 Santa Monica Blvd., 4365 Sepulveda Blvd., 132 S. Vermont Ave., 1328 N. Highland Ave., 19347 Ventura Blvd. and 1147 S. Robertson Blvd.
  • Target audience: families, friends, colleagues, people over 8 years old.
  • Neighborhoods: Chinese cinemas El Capitan, Dolby and TCL, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood & Highland Mall and Hollywood Pantages Theater, and a variety of trendy bars and restaurants surround the Maze Rooms on Highland Avenue.

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