Monday, May 20, 2024

Macomb Small business Competition ideas start to become a reality

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MACOMB (WGEM) – It’s been over a month since the return of Macomb’s Small Business Competition, and one prospective entrepreneur has already opened its doors.

James and Anna Fowler, who pitched Escape MJ’s, a now open escape room on the square, did not come away with any prize money from the competition but still wanted to share the passion they developed over the last decade of traveling to different escape rooms.

“It’s a lot of blood sweat and tears, a lot of passion, I mean it’s something different if you have passion behind what you open,” James Fowler said.

On Friday, the couple debuted the new business, and are already nearly booked for the weekend. Fowler said some customers are traveling from as far as Wisconsin, and some from Burlington, Iowa.

Currently, there are two different escape rooms. In one, customers must escape from detention, which is a seven out of 10 difficulty rating, in the other room customers have to solve a murder mystery, which is a 10 out of 10 difficulty. The Fowlers purchased the space at 111 S. Side Square in November and have been renovating it since.

The walls that make up the escape rooms were designed by James, and are portable so they can change to meet the needs of future escape rooms. The Fowlers have developed another idea, they hope to make a reality in the three or four months.

“You have an idea, and then you just start coming up with clues and then you just start adding clues together and pairing them with them, you can change a clue, go from there and you just start building your own clues,” he said.

The couple didn’t have to look far for inspiration when it came to naming the business. Escape MJ’s is named after their four-year-old son, Jordan Michael.

James said they flipped the initials to MJ, for Michael Jordan, which is what he originally wanted to name his son.

“We compromised,” Anna Fowler said.

The Fowlers hope to roll out new themes every six months or so. Teams can range from two to eight people, and customers must book ahead. Each escape room has a one-hour time limit.

James was there until midnight before Friday’s ribbon cutting putting the finishing touches on the business.

Touching base with first-place

Just down the street, at 127 W. Calhoun, work is still underway in hopes for an early summer opening. Eras Vintage owner Kiley Lee is using her $15,000 grand prize for renovations.

Eras Vintage will have a few different sections, or “eras.” In one corner, Lee said the theme will be 60s and 70s. Another area will be for dark woods, hand-carved, and Victorian-era items. Another area will have a cozier theme.

Lee is proceeding with renovations with the help of her father and her cousin.

“It’s starting to get exciting, for a long time it was just very overwhelming because you couldn’t picture it because it was all dilapidated and now that it’s starting to take form, I can start to see where things will go and how it will actually function,” Lee said.

Lee said they have completely gutted the place. Working on everything from the roof, to the windows, to installing new electrical and HVAC and getting new floors.

Her inspiration for Eras Vintage comes from a lifelong passion of collecting old items.

“Our community could use more third places,” she said. “Where people can just come and not have to feel productive and not feel pressure and just relax and hang out.”

Downtown Development Director Savannah Ballard said the other two finalists are still in the process of finding a brick n’ mortar for their business.

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