A suggestion by his son while planning a family vacation to Washington, D.C., in 2015 sent Chuck Duplain on a mission to open an “escape room” when he got back to Canton.
“I hadn’t heard of it,” Duplain said. “I still didn’t get it, but we booked it. I wasn’t good at it, but we had fun. I had been looking for a business to open in downtown Canton, and as soon as I played it, I knew this was it.”
Now in its third year, Escape Room Downtown at 203 Market Avenue S drew more than 12,000 guests last year, Duplain said.
How does it work? Guests are escorted into a room where they have to solve a mystery using the artifacts and clues on display within a certain amount of time.
Escape Room Downtown offers three scenarios: “The Missing Detective’s Office,” “The Moonlight Gallery” and “The Bootlegger’s Lair.” Each room contains authentic furniture and props matching the period in question.
“You’re creating experiences for people; creating memories,” Duplain said.
Escape Room Downtown also pays homage to Canton’s history; in particular the raucous 1920s, when the city was known as “Little Chicago,” because bootleggers, gamblers and, ahem, ladies of the evening operated with impunity.
Duplain worked on the business while working a full-time job. He opened the first room in November 2015.
A mention on a Visit Canton blog post blew up Duplain’s phone in December 2015, with people wanting bookings.
“We just hit the ground running, and we haven’t stopped since,” he said.
The second mystery room followed in May 2016 and the third in April 2017.
The Bootlegger’s Lair, which includes a speakeasy, took seven months to build, Duplain noted.
Duplain said to ensure authenticity, Escape Room Downtown has worked with the Wm. McKinley Presidential Library & Museum and Canton Food Tours.
Using his web market expertise, Duplain said he advertises in a 50- to 60-mile radius, and estimates that 40 to 45 percent of guests are out-of-towners.
In December, he hosted about 40 corporate events.
“Escape games are perfect for staff outings,” he said.
Duplain said the term “escape room” shouldn’t be taken literally.
“The idea was, basically, we wanted to be storytellers,” he said. “It’s not about ‘escaping;’ it’s about creating a mission. There are some escape rooms that have zombies, or people are put in handcuffs. This is about fun and history. We’re trying to tie in Canton history, in some rooms more than others.
“The thing I notice is it gets ’em talking.”
Duplain noted that many guests who visit Escape Room Downtown often visit nearby restaurants and bars.
“It makes an impact on other businesses,” he said, adding that there are plans for a partnership with Street Side, a new Mexican restaurant which recently opened on Court Avenue NW. For more information, call 330-844-1492 or visit escaperoomdowntown.com.