Back in 2014, Julianne Wright took her son to Huntsville, Alabama, for a week at Space Camp.
While he was learning what it was like to be an astronaut, Wright spent that week in her hotel room drawing up a plan for an escape room business.
Now, nine years later, Wright’s business, Atomic Escape Rooms, has taken off like a rocket, with expansion plans underway. Spoiler alert: they involve Bigfoot, a glitter-and-paint party room and a new location.
It’s been a fun ride, Wright said.
“Seeing the excited customers is great,” she said. “People are so happy and having fun. Seeing that they liked one of my rooms, I love that. So it’s my ego too.”
Atomic Escape Rooms is at 1653 Fowler St. in Richland just north of Highway 240.
The business features 4,200 square feet of escape room fun, with four live rooms and three virtual reality rooms offering seven different challenges.
For the uninitiated, the physical adventure escape rooms involve using elements in the room to solve a series of puzzles and to find clues to escape the room within 60 minutes.
The virtual escape room has participants slipping on a headset attached to a backpack along with hand controllers to immerse themselves in a video game-like environment.
Customers continue to fill up available weekend time slots at Atomic Escape Rooms. Weekdays are getting busier too.
But there are people who still don’t know the place is here, Wright said.
“The dinner shows we do have introduced us to the theater community, which helped us get more people to the escape rooms. Now, we have a mailing list to 20,000 people,” she said.
Atomic Escape has 25 employees. “A year ago we had 20,” she said.
Recently, Wright added another live escape room to her lineup, Secrets of the Carousel, at the Gesa Carousel of Dreams in the Southridge area of Kennewick.
Wright leased two suites in a nearby new flex space development for their latest adventures. It’s not far from Atomic Escape, across Highway 240, at 1333 Tapteal Drive in Richland.
Their new escape room, Expedition Bigfoot, will be offered in a 1,600-square-foot indoor space to simulate the outdoors. “Scary” and “not-so-scary” levels will be offered.
Wright and her husband have been planning the Bigfoot challenge for a while. In December, they bought 126 artificial Christmas trees to turn the indoor space into an outdoor challenge arena.
“We expect the new Bigfoot room to open within five months,” Wright said. “I’ve learned that people like physical challenges. And Bigfoot will have a lot of physical puzzles.”
Their second 1,600-square-foot suite will be the Splatter Zone.
“It’s a party space, where people can throw paint at their friends. We’ll have music, black lights, water guns filled with paint, balloons with paint and glitter,” Wright said.
The Splatter Zone and party room should be open around May 1.
It’s bound to be popular as Atomic Escape caters to groups.
“We’ve had graduation parties. There have been prom parties, bachelorette parties, team building, family reunions and retirement parties,” Wright said.
Wright happily traded her information technology job for escape room adventures.
For 26 years, she worked in the Hanford area in IT. Her husband, Troy, works for Kadlec in the health care field.
“I wanted to be my own boss,” Julianne said. “I was done (with IT) in 2016. So Troy and I were trying to build a business on the weekends.”
The idea for the escape room business was formulated during that week in Huntsville, and she stayed and worked at Hanford until the income from their new business allowed her to quit her main gig.
Julianne tried explaining to her husband her idea and how it would work, but it took her a weekend in their kitchen making a model of her plans to convince him.
He became her construction manager, creating everything needed for each room.
“My husband has been so supportive,” she said.
Julianne got her business license in 2017, but her construction contractor from Seattle was hit by a car, delaying the launch at Fowler Street.
Without a physical location, Julianne took her act on the road, renting space in local hotels and using virtual reality equipment.
“I thought virtual reality wouldn’t last very long,” she admitted. “But virtual reality saved the business. We rented out hotel rooms, doing haunted houses virtual reality escape rooms. We could throw spiders at them, throw blood at them. It was an immediate hit. The customers loved it.”
Eventually, in July 2018, she opened the Fowler Street location.
Julianne comes up with many of the ideas for the live rooms herself, and the most popular is Case #79: The Gold Mine, where people must find the secret room to escape a gold mine.
There is also a bank robbery room, Santa Claus-themed room and a serial killer room.
The cost for any escape room adventure — live or virtual reality — is $28 per person.
It’s been a successful run so far. So much so, that Julianne finally gave her notice at Hanford in 2021.
Escape rooms are what she loves doing now.
“I’ve put my heart and soul into this,” she said.
She and her husband are their own research and development team.
They travel to Las Vegas three or four times a year — not to really gamble, but to check out escape rooms.
“Our last trip, we went to eight escape rooms in three days,” she said.
Atomic Escape Rooms: 1653 Fowler St., Richland; 509-735-4045; atomicescaperooms.com.
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