While many Mainers have spent the past two months cooped up at home, Dave Jopp has been busy building an escape room.

No, the theme of the new room has nothing to do with viral pathogens. It’s called Lost City of the Jaguar King and was named before the quarantine-enhanced popularity of the Netflix series “Tiger King.”

Jopp is the owner of The Escape Room, a five-year-old enterprise in Portland that offers small groups of customers the opportunity to test their puzzle-solving skills by piecing together clues in an effort to extricate themselves from a seemingly locked room before their 60-minute time limit expires.

It’s one of a number of indoor recreation venues across Maine that are inching toward reopening at a time when halting the spread of coronavirus remains a top public health priority. Jopp plans to throw open his doors on Wednesday, with hopes of providing a welcome diversion.

“You go out of your home escape room and then into our escape room,” he said. “I honestly think it’ll be a good activity to do that’s fairly safe and good entertainment for families once they feel safe to go out.”

All businesses that are considering reopening on June 1 in Stage 2 of the four-stage plan by Gov. Janet Mills must adhere to certain guidelines and checklists published on the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development website. Some venues, including bowling alleys and trampoline parks, are expected to remain closed at least until July because specific safety protocols have yet to be established.


The prohibition on social gatherings shifts Monday from no more than 10 to no more than 50. Jopp figured he fits into Stage 2 because his individual rooms are limited to 10, and a colleague’s establishment recently reopened in neighboring New Hampshire.

However, Economic Development Commissioner Heather Johnson – in her weekly Q&A webinar on Wednesday afternoon – was asked specifically about escape rooms.

“Escape rooms haven’t been a specific item,” she said regarding the state’s review process for reopening. “They would likely fall into inside amusement, and that hasn’t been reviewed yet.”

Jopp learned of Johnson’s remarks Thursday afternoon and reconsidered his plans. He is still leaning toward opening but said he will close again if told to do so.

“I don’t want to be a problem to them at all,” he said. “I respect that they have a lot of weight on their shoulders right now.”

Kate Foye, the development department’s director of legislative affairs and communications, said indoor recreational activities present many of the same challenges as gyms and fitness centers.


“With increased physical activity come increased exhaling, and in an indoor setting there is a higher risk of spreading infection,” she said via email. “A team of public health experts continues to review input from this industry sector and follows the latest science on indoor physical activities.”

Bowling alleys around the state have yet to receive the green light to reopen, although at least two that are part of restaurants in the state’s more rural counties are accepting reservations for their lanes. Both River Lanes of Bethel in Oxford County and Moose Alley of Rangeley in Franklin County welcomed back patrons on May 18 as part of the state’s rural reopening plan for areas that haven’t seen community transmission of the virus.

As of Wednesday, there had been 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths in Oxford County, and 36 cases and one death in Franklin County.

In a social media post earlier this week, Moose Alley owner Nancy Bessey wrote about redesigning operating plans, implementing a reservation-only approach and limiting days but expanding hours to make economic sense, as well as to allow opportunities for deep cleaning and sanitizing.

“Not only are we learning new and expanded processes, but our guests will be learning a completely different way of recreating within our space,” she wrote. “As a rural town with very few customers during this time of year, this is the best time to train for the excellence that will be so critical for our staff and customers in the few short weeks we have left before all of Maine has reopened.”

Bessey did not respond to a message asking about Moose Alley’s specific safety measures.


River Lanes had been open only four months before the pandemic closed its operations in March. Owner Adrienne Goodwin said her establishment is adhering to the state checklist required of restaurants. Hand sanitizer greets patrons before they open the front door. Similar stations are located in front of bathroom doors.

She said in addition to staggering lanes, all the bowling balls are sanitized by staff after use. They do likewise with pool cues and have shut down the middle of three billiards tables, which are not coin-operated, so customers must obtain clean equipment from the front desk.

Goodwin shelved cornhole games – “there’s no way to do anything with those cloth bags” – but has added 6,000 square feet outdoors for 10 picnic tables and three horseshoe pits. She said the indoor space is 17,000 square feet and includes two dart boards and an arcade that has been chained off and is limited to single-family use between cleanings.

“We’re doing the best we can in a bad situation,” Goodwin said. “Until someone tells me something different, we’re going with what we think is best.”

Bayside Bowl owner Charlie Mitchell stands on his rooftop bar and restaurant, “one of our summer business drivers.” Mitchell plans to open the rooftop in June, but the bowling downstairs remains in question. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Bayside Bowl in Portland is home to the PBA Tour’s televised Elias Cup, which features raucous fans crowding around professional bowlers competing in a team format. Obviously, that’s not happening in July as originally scheduled.

Charlie Mitchell, the owner-operator of Bayside, said the PBA is looking at potential fall dates. Bayside has been operating restaurant service with curbside pickup and plans to reopen when the state lifts the current dine-in prohibition for Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties, where the virus has been most prevalent.


“Our roof deck is one of our summer business drivers,” said Mitchell, who has seen 15 of 17 planned wedding reservations either canceled or postponed.

A 2017 renovation expanded Bayside’s area to 40,000 square feet and in normal times caters to 300 customers, so 50 would make it seem like a ghost town, Mitchell said. When bowling does return, he envisions a gradual path beginning with league play, because those bowlers bring their own equipment and can be contacted more easily if an infection becomes known.

Bowling is not particularly aerobic, Mitchell noted, so heavier breathing that may transmit respiratory droplets is less of an issue.

“If we needed our bowlers to wear masks,” he said, “that would be easy to accomplish.”

At Big 20 Bowling Center in Scarborough, owner and operator Mike Walker also serves as president of the Maine State Candlepin Bowling Association. He said all 11 members are seeking guidance on how and when to return to operation. For a building with 15,000 square feet and 20 lanes, Walker figures his facility is better equipped to handle social distancing than most restaurants.

“We get it, this is scary,” Walker said. “But give us as the business owner and the entrepreneurial mind a chance to figure out how we can open and operate our business safely to the public. At the same time, some of us may decide not to open. We all have ideas, and each center is set up a little different.”


Anthony Dill, owner of the Urban Air trampoline and adventure park in South Portland, said his business fits into the fitness and exercise gym category, whose reopening has been pushed back indefinitely from an original target of June 1. Dill said he’s not considering reopening the 30,000-square-foot facility until late June or early July.

“We’re working with the city and state, and also our corporate offices, on enhanced cleaning, changes to protocol and checking people in,” he said. “It’s going to be gradual. Safety is our No. 1 priority for our customers and kids.”

For the preschool set, Greenlight Studio on Dartmouth Street in Portland offered a recreational play space with climbing walls, train tables and plenty of toys and tools appropriate for young children. The studio also offered a cafe where frazzled parents could relax with a cup of coffee.

Owners Anna Maria Tocci and her husband were coming to the end of a five-year lease of their space, and over the winter began looking to sell the business. The pandemic and accompanying safety concerns torpedoed discussions with potential buyers.

“With the model that we had, it would have been impossible to reopen,” Tocci said. “There’s really no way to have (children’s) play be self-guided and fun.”

On March 12, Tocci posted a note on the Greenlight website about making hand sanitizer available, increasing the frequency of disinfecting high-touch surfaces and rotating toys so that costumes and stuffed animals could be washed more often. The following day, she decided to close.

“We’ll eventually come to a time when we can gather and businesses like this will thrive again,” she said. “That’s my hope.”

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