New store has shoppers solve puzzles to escape Eastridge

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Original Article by Wade Tyler Millward

Something isn’t right with one of the desks inside the newest tenant at Gastonia’s Eastridge Mall.

The hanging pictures seem suspicious. Even the walls might hide a clue.

This is the type of paranoia Rita Edwards hopes will bring visitors to her unusual, new shop at the mall.

Recently retired after about 30 years in nuclear security with Duke Energy, Edwards turned her attention to Gastonia’s first escape room at Xtreme Xcapes.

The escape room, a form of entertainment growing across the country after finding a following in Asia and Europe, should pull in customers from businesses and other groups looking for new team-building exercises, she said.

Costing $25 per person with up to 10 people on a team, customers will have an hour to solve puzzles and find codes to locks, all in an effort to escape the themed room they’re inside.

“It’s an awesome place to just have fun,” Edwards said.

A police and sheriff’s officer for a total of eight years who’s visited almost every state in the union on a motorcycle (Hawaii’s off the list because flying makes her nervous), Edwards considers herself an adrenaline junkie who likes to separate herself from the crowd.

She’d talked before about taking on the ultimate puzzle of running a successful business, at first wanting to open a restaurant.

But after she tried her first escape room in October, the 63-year-old said she found her calling. It provided more action and stimulation than the company retreats she remembered.

It took her about two months and a $20,000 investment to get her space ready to open Tuesday.

“It’s been challenging,” she said. “But a fun challenge.”

She’s signed a one-year lease for her nearly 2,700-square-foot space, Eastridge leasing manager Steve Stout said.

Edwards offers one escape room for now, but she adds to the mall’s goal of finding attractions to entice new shoppers and to give loyal ones another chance to come shop, such as when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles office on site.

“We’re excited to have her,” Stout said.

The fan-run online Escape Room Directory counts 1,103 total rooms (not businesses) in the United States, 32 percent of the escape rooms worldwide.

About 20 businesses, with about 40 total escape rooms, exist in North Carolina, according to the website.

István Rusvai, who owns the Hungarian escape room puzzle-maker MazeBase, said he has about 13 clients in the United States, from a mall in Los Angeles to an old factory in Kansas.

American games are a hybrid between European ones (small rooms for a small group of friends) and Asian ones that feature large rooms with large groups of strangers.

Edwards has space for an additional escape room, but her first is spy themed. It’s appropriate, Rusvai said, because it reflects the goals for the first rooms in Hungary.

“One (of) the main points is to make the players feel like they are real action stars,” he said.