Escape room brings spooky to downtown
If you're looking for a place to get spooky this Halloween, look no further than the old mortuary in downtown Hillsboro.
The site of funerals for the better part of a century, the mortuary at 171 N.E. 3rd Ave. has been transformed into a hotbed for small bakery-themed businesses in the last year. Now known as The Collective Kitchen, the space includes a wine bar along the western end of the building, and several small bakers rent kitchen space in the middle.
But in the southeastern corner, there's a murder to be solved.
A macabre parlor game, of sorts, has set up at the mortuary; the new business venture of two Hillsboro School District teachers, Sean and Layton Fishback.
The pair have launched Westside Escape Rooms, and set up a room in the mortuary, where groups of people must find hidden clues and solve a mystery before the timer runs out.
In the game, players are at the mortuary viewing the will of their Great Aunt Margie, who has recently died. The players learn she believed someone wanted her dead. She now needs the players to find the clues and solve her murder — and thus escape from the makeshift funeral parlor — before police arrive.
Escape rooms have been popular across the country in recent years, drawing widespread media coverage of the industry where "locking up your customers" can make for good business, according to one article on MarketWatch.
The Fishbacks' space is decorated like a funeral parlor, including a kneeling pew taken from the old mortuary. Photos of dear Aunt Margie — Layton Fishback's mother, who allowed her likeness to be used — adorn the walls and knicknacks.
Players have an hour to solve the murder. Most challengers have finished in just over an hour, Sean Fishback said, and most without much help from narrators — though on some occasions, he informs customers the police are running a few minutes late.
He said he enjoys watching the different ways in which people solve problems inside the room, which he can see via a camera and two-way audio system perched in the corner. Some get excited over sure-fire clues that turn out to be moot, while others overlook important details as they race against the clock.
Sean Fishback teaches language arts at Ladd Acres Middle School, while Layton Fishback teaches language arts at Glencoe High. Layton said the idea came after her husband went to an educational workshop aimed at getting students to problem-solve and work together.
"He did those as an extension for high-level students when they were done with classwork," Layton Fishback said.
It was an engaging tool, she said, and the couple began to dream of creating an escape room where participants find clues and solve riddles to break out of a 'locked' room.
The Fishbacks, who have known Collective Kitchen owner Mindy Simmons for several years, jumped on an opportunity for a short-term lease in the old mortuary.
If Westside Escape Rooms' first run is successful, Fishback said she would consider a longer-running setup.
"For right now, it's just for October," Layton Fishback said. "We're discovering how the business could run, and we're enjoying it."
Sessions begin on Oct. 4, and will run through October 31. Reservations are available at www.collectivekitchen.net.