Escaping the pandemic
Fort Frenzy offers variety of games, activities for guests
Selling the idea of fun typically isn’t that much of a challenge for the staff at Fort Frenzy, 3232 First Ave. S.
But during the COVID-19 era where people are encouraged to socially distance and mask up, business has been slower for the Fort Dodge amusement center, which offers dozens of different games and activities.
Fort Frenzy, like many businesses, had to shut down on March 17 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The business remained closed until June. And although it received $25,000 from the Iowa Small Business Relief Program to keep things afloat, the void left by a lack of customers has still been felt, according to Todd McCubbin, part-owner.
Jordon McCubbin, manager of Fort Frenzy, reported that anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 customers come through the doors of Fort Frenzy during summer months since the business opened in November of 2013.
But in June and July, he said the number of customers was about 50% of what it usually is.
Regardless, the McCubbin family remains optimistic that business will pick up as they continue to offer interactive games and a spacious venue for events inside and outside the facility.
And Jordon McCubbin, who began his managerial duties in April of 2018, said the number of customers entering Fort Frenzy did increase in August.
“August we started to go back up,” Jordon McCubbin said. “It’s about 80 percent of what it was. During the winter we slow down.”
Over 40 different arcade games are offered inside Fort Frenzy.
“We are always switching out those,” McCubbin said.
Go-karts, miniature golf, miniature bowling and bumper cars are among the other attractions.
McCubbin said the newest game is called ValoJump, an interactive trampoline game.
“That’s really fun,” he said.
An escape room is another option for customers.
An escape room is a game where the player(s) look for clues, solve puzzles and accomplish tasks to make it out of the room in a limited amount of time.
The escape room at Fort Frenzy is based on the story of the Cardiff Giant, the most infamous hoax in Fort Dodge history involving a 10-foot-tall model made from gypsum.
“It’s called the Giant Hoax,” McCubbin said. “You get locked in this room and there’s a safe you have to crack. It’s family-friendly. A lot of escape rooms can be pretty spooky. It’s bright, it’s not dark. It’s a thinking game, not a physical thing, but when you get out of it, it’s a rush. The room lasts about an hour.”
McCubbin said he’s surprised at the number of people who visit from out of town.
“We get people from two or three hours away,” he said. “And having the hotel (Brookstone Inn & Suites) right next door is nice. Gives them a place to stay.”
Because of the size of the venue, Todd McCubbin said people can still have fun and be safe.
“We can have a lot of people in here and still socially distance really well,” he said.
Wedding receptions, nonprofit dinners and birthday parties are other popular events held at Fort Frenzy.
Wednesday nights are karaoke nights.
A pizza cafe, full bar and full liquor, are part of the amenities.
Fort Frenzy employs about 24 people — 20 of whom are high school-aged.
“We are a lot of people’s first job,” Todd McCubbin said. “They learn things like you have to be to work on time, you need to fill out these forms. It’s a learning experience for them.”
Jordon McCubbin added, “They are all very hard workers. It’s a good job to have. It gets them in front of people.”
Jordon McCubbin considers his staff the biggest success of the business.
“They have come a long way over the past year of getting involved to make this place bigger and better,” he said. “We are doing much better at making sure people have a great experience when they come here.”
Todd McCubbin said from an ownership point of view, he’s learned a lot over the past seven years or so.
“We thought if you built it they will come,” he said. “I had no management experience.
Over the years, we found that’s not how business works. You have to work at it every day and have to have the right people. Finding that mix of right people, right amount of marking, right amount of customer service. Those first couple years were a struggle.You gotta have thick skin.”
One area where the public has been critical at times is the cost of the services provided.
“We are probably the cheapest fun center in the country and we get criticized for being the most expensive,” he said. “We are trying to bring the price down so everyone can come here.”
Earlier in the year, Fort Frenzy was able to donate over 1,000 items to the Lord’s Cupboard.
“We gave people a two hour pass for two non perishable goods,” Todd McCubbin said. “We did that on Tuesdays.”
At the same time, the business needs to stay agile during uncertain times.
“We are dedicated to providing a safe and clean environment,” Jordon McCubbin said. “We have done our best. We follow the governor’s rules as best we can. We don’t know when the rules are going to change again. We really have to be on our toes.”
Still, providing an outlet for the public is a rewarding job, Jordon McCubbin said.
“I am a firm believer in if you find an opportunity to have a positive impact on someone you should do whatever you can do to that,” he said. “When I see kids coming in and smiling or screaming having a good time, that’s one of the best reasons to work here. It could be worse. You could go to a job where you are ruining people’s day. It’s nice to have that oasis away from the stress of life.”
Fort Frenzy is open seven days a week — Sunday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.