Douglass (Berks) >> Renee Talkington grew up at Jay Lanes Bowling on Ben Franklin Highway in Douglass (Berks). Not literally of course, but the Pottstown native has been bowling at the center since she was 8-years-old.
In May, 2012, Talkington and her husband Chuck took over operations of the bowling alley and completed the purchase of the nearly 28,000-square-foot strip mall in October of that year. A snack bar was quickly added, and Talkington said both league and open bowling have grown.
In May, the center expanded to offer an additional family entertainment component — TNT Laser Tag.
“There are bowling centers and family fun entertainment centers,” said Talkington. “So we thought it would be fun — if we could turn this into a smaller version of a family fun center so families could come and have a good time. And laser tag is for families of any age.”
In laser tag, competitors suit up with vests and phasers, and after a briefing enter the competition arena — in this case medieval-themed — complete with a fire breathing dragon. The game, which lasts about eight minutes, is played in the dark, with blacklights to provide some illumination and fog for effect.
The goal? To “deactivate” opposing players by firing a phaser — scoring the most points — before being “deactivated” by an opposing player.
“I had never played laser tag until I got it here. When I saw the different ages playing — adults and youth — it’s amazing. I didn’t get it until I saw it with my own two eyes,” she said.
Talkington said that when Elite Salon and Spa closed in November 2014, the idea came up about expanding into that empty space.
“We were tossing it around, and then we decided it was a good idea to have control of the space. And if we could make revenue that would equate to what we would make in rent we would be better off,” she said.
The final decision was made and a contract signed in October 2015. The arena was built in January by a company called Creative Works. Talkington said the arena construction typically takes six months.
“We lucked out with that. The only reason that went in so early was that someone had ordered the medieval theme, had put down a deposit and then walked away. So we got it cheaper and sooner.”
Once all the township approvals were complete, the arena was installed and the vests and phasers arrived in early May, provided by Zone Laser Tag.
Talkington said that in addition to the arena, the walls in the competition room were painted in the same medieval theme.
“Usually it’s a stencil painting. But the painter — a former Disney painter — freehand painted the walls in the laser tag. He started in a corner, and just went from there, painting all around. It only took him 2½ days,” she added.
The total cost for the project was about $145,000, and Talkington expects to recoup her investment within two years.
Talkington said she used to bowl on Friday nights with the former owner, and when the topic came up about a possible sale, she thought it would be a good purchase. She and her husband already own about 14 properties.
“I was not an employee here before we bought. I was just an old bowler,” Talkington said. “You kind of get away from it when you’re in your twenties, then you come full circle and start bowling again. I was married with children and it was my one night out a week with friends — for me — that I had fun.”
The biggest challenge when they purchased the property, she said, was understanding the mechanics of the machinery in the bowling alley.
“There were a lot of things behind the scenes I didn’t know. But the mechanics of the machinery — I had no idea, no clue how expensive some of that stuff was to replace,” she said.
She said she was fortunate, because the former owner’s son, Brian Satkowski, stayed on, as did many of the employees. Satkowski is currently the general manager of Jay Lanes Bowling.
Talkington has a degree in accounting from Villanova University, and had worked with Kravco, a private real estate developer and property management company and the former owner of King of Prussia Mall. She no longer works for the company full-time, but still does some consulting for Kravco. Chuck Talkington manages the couple’s properties. The couple lives in Gilbertsville.
Talkington said she truly loves what she’s doing.
“For the first couple of years, I would sit at the counter and listen to the laughter. You talk about gratitude and appreciation — you have it when you listen to that. I would sit there and get goose bumps — I loved it,” she said, adding that she’s been experiencing that all over again with the laser tag. “When we opened the laser tag, the first couple of families that came out said, ‘Oh my gosh — that’s so much fun — we’re coming back,’ and I got those goosebumps back again.”
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