No fun: St. John's amusement park Axtion among latest COVID-19 business casualties

·2 min read
Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

An indoor amusement park in St. John's that has hosted countless birthday parties, go-karting sessions and rounds of bumper boats will soon be no more, as the owners of Axtion say the pandemic is forcing them to close their doors.

Owner Ross Squires took to Facebook to announce its final day of fun at the 16,000-square-foot facility will be Sunday, and that "COVID won."

"Basically, our bills are higher than what the income has been lately," Squires told CBC News on Thursday.

COVID-19 pushed his business — which opened eight years ago — over the edge, he said.

It started with a wounded economy due to January's snowstorm, then the lockdown caused by the global health crisis, which saw the space close entirely. Upon reopening, Axtion faced capacity restrictions, and despite regulations changing to allow more customers inside, finances didn't improve.

Finally came December, and the company's "worst month yet," which in a normal year should have brought a year-end boost, Squires said. But provincial health officials stressed the importance of not holding corporate Christmas parties and keeping contacts low over the holidays in fear of causing further potential spread of COVID-19.

"Everyone listened. People wanted to make sure that that didn't happen, understandably so, but it did have a major affect on our business," said Squires.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

Community support

Hundreds of comments flooded in after Squires posted his farewell message on Facebook. Many expressed shock, sadness and disappointment.

Outside of the amusement park on Thursday parents and children reeled in light of the news.

"I was devastated. I was scared to tell my son because I knew how devastated he'd be. We go there often. Every couple of weeks we're here, at least," mom Melissa Dagostini said.

Dagostini isn't alone.

For dad Roger Lewis, the place was as much about having fun as it was about teaching his daughter to overcome fears.

"We broke the news yesterday to my daughter. She's seven. She came to Axtion initially to get over her fear of heights, and she did succeed," Lewis said.

"She shed a few tears yesterday afternoon when she did find out that it was closing."

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

Many hope something can be worked out to keep the park running, with 25 staff members' jobs at stake.

Squires said since his post went up on Wednesday business has been booming, and support from his customers has been steadily flowing in.

"A lot of support has come in. A lot of phone calls and things like that, and the community is actually coming to bat for me, he said.

As for Sunday's closure, "that may change, I can't give a final decision right now. But, things may change pretty quick," said Squires.

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