Fort McMurray business offers escape room experiences at home

·3 min read

Mr. E's Solve-it-torium has been closed for months, but business owner Michela Gilchrist has found a new way to get people solving puzzles: at-home escape boxes.

The Fort McMurray-based escape room has had a difficult year, having to close with pandemic restrictions and the building being damaged during the flood last April.

Gilchrist said the idea came for the at-home option came from an escape room forum she participates in, where a user from the United States was selling a take-home escape box called Internal Threat.

Gilchrist talked to the owner of the escape box, Joshua Wilkinson, who had never successfully rented out the game. She decided to buy it.

It was a risky move for Gilchrist, considering it would cost $800 to buy and ship the box to Fort McMurray, and Mr. E's Solve-it-torium hasn't made an income since the beginning of the pandemic.

But Gilchrist decided to try it, and says it has been a success with customers. Gilchrist and her husband have already made a second box called Sunken Treasure. Within one day it was completely booked for January.

"We could have ten of these and I don't think we would have enough for the customers," said Gilchrist.

Gilchrist is already working on a third box, and she says this one will include more of the technology Mr. E's Solve-it-torium is known for.

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

"It's just nice to see the customers come back," said Gilchrist.

Gilchrist said since they bought a 3D printer, it's been easier to design and build the boxes. It took about three weeks to build Sunken Treasure.

Gilchrist doesn't know of any other escape room business in Alberta with a similar product.

Customers can pick the box up from Gilchrist's house after booking or renters can pay a few extra dollars for delivery to their home.

Gilchrist sanitizes the box between each use to help keep customers safe.

"There is a level of trust involved. We don't ask for a deposit or anything like that," said Gilchrist. So far she hasn't had any issues with people not returning the box or damaging it.

Submitted by Jessica Lush
Submitted by Jessica Lush

Krystal Jessome was one one of the first beta-testers for the Sunken Treasure box.

"We did all their escape rooms too when Mr. E's was open," said Jessome. "So it was a nice surprise that she had them to take home."

The Lush family has also played Sunken Treasure. Nine-year-old Brooklyn Lush had asked to go to Mr. E's for her birthday in March 2020, but that week the province brought in restrictions for the pandemic and her celebration was cancelled.

Jessica Lush said she saw Mr. E's Solve-it-torium had the boxes available for rent and she jumped on it right away.

For Brooklyn Lush, the game was, "my dream." She even solved one of the riddles.

"I loved it."

Gilchrist said she has no idea when she will be able to reopen her escape room. Not only is she facing restrictions from the government, but the building her business is in was damaged during Fort McMurray's April flood and still isn't fully repaired.

In the meantime, she says the solve-at-home boxes offer a great way for her to stay connected with her customers.

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC