When Fun Becomes a Serious Business

By Beacon Staff

The Zone Family Fun Center is probably more than you expect. Fun is taken seriously here.

The guns for laser tag are state-of-the-art imports from New Zealand, the 40 games in the arcade are the newest on the market, the food is locally derived and the aptly named Crazy Zone is, as manager Greg Emmett says, “essentially an indoor playground on steroids.”

Every piece of equipment has been researched and carefully selected from around the world by owner Amber Collier, who has taken an abandoned industrial building and turned it into an ultimate destination for fun seekers of all ages.

Collier came up with the idea last year, then traveled to 35 similar facilities across the nation and participated in a one-week workshop in Las Vegas hosted by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Again, fun is serious business around these parts.

And Collier thinks it should be. The community, she said, deserves it.

Greg Emmett hits the start button in the Laser Frenzy room at The Fun Zone Family Fun Center. The object of the Laser Frenzy is to make it across the room and back without breaking any of the beams.

“I was in real estate and the economy went down and I said, ‘I’m not letting this economy bring our Flathead down,’” Collier said. “A place like this, if you talk to people around here, it needs to be done.”

Like many others in the valley, Collier constantly hears about the lack of safe, indoor activities for youngsters in the valley, an absence that’s especially apparent during winter. Last month, Jumping Jacks Inflatable Funhouse opened off of U.S. Highway 2 East as a remedy to that absence, and now The Zone Family Fun Center is setting up shop along the same road.

The Zone is set to open on Dec. 18 in the 24,000-square-foot building that used to house Nomad Global Communication Systems and Ziegler Building Center at 3240 Highway 2 East.

After Collier began envisioning a “family entertainment center” (FEC), as it’s known in the amusement industry, she made a conscious decision to do it right – no skimping on prices and going the extra mile to research the best options.

Her quest for quality took her to family entertainment centers around the country, up and down the West Coast in particular. This type of research was just fine with her two daughters, ages 2 and 8.

“My kids enjoyed the market research,” she said.

One reality of traveling to so many fun centers was more pizza than Collier would care to experience again. But the abundance of cheap, frozen meals helped inspire Collier to seek local, fresh ingredients for her restaurant. Slice, as the café is named, will get produce from the nearby Apple Barrel and other food from Glacier Wholesalers.

“Nothing is frozen here,” Emmett, the manager, said.

Amber Collier, right, and her husband, Robin Collier, move a large piece of flooring into place for the bumper cars area at The Zone Family Fun Center.

All ages are welcome at The Zone, from toddlers to adults. Teenagers may especially be drawn to the attractions, including the 3,500-square-foot laser tag arena, arcade and bumper cars. There are also multiple rooms reserved for parties.

The arcade features many of the best-known titles, such as Dance Dance Revolution, Hoop Fever, Big Buck Hunter and Guitar Hero. Lower-end prizes include traditional arcade fare like toys and candy, but there are also top prizes such as DVD players, Xbox games and more.

“When I was a teenager, I went to these kinds of places on dates,” Collier said. “I was thinking, ‘What do high school kids do here?’ You can go to the movies, but once you’ve seen all the movies, then what?”

Collier points out that The Zone is barely outside of Kalispell, two miles north of Reserve Drive and well before Glacier Park International Airport. Parents can drop their kids off and travel a few minutes away to shop. Or they can stick around and enjoy the atmosphere.

The Zone uses a swipe card system, in which customers put a certain amount of money on a card and then each activity’s admission price is deducted from the total. They keep their card and over time points are collected, resulting in discounts.

“Everything’s affordable here,” Collier said. “You don’t have to have a fortune to come here and have fun.”

Emmett said a number of local businesses participated in construction, and more lent their support in other ways. “A lot of people,” he said, “went above and beyond.”

“From the time I came here and started,” Emmett said, “it’s gone from, ‘This is a really good business plan’ to ‘this is a community service.’ It’s an opportunity to embrace what people want and need.”

The 3,500-square-foot Laser Combat room is a maze of walls that glow under black lights.

The Zone Family Fun Center can be reached at (406) 755-9663 or online at www.zonefamilyfun.com. Opening day is scheduled for Dec. 18. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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