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Local business reopens with sizable crowd after year-long shutdown due to COVID-19

Business & Money

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Blast Off opened for the first time Monday since it closed last March at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Get a look at the turnout in the video above. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS – After a year-long closure, a popular entertainment venue in Idaho Falls is officially back open.

Blast Off reopened its doors at noon Monday to a sizable crowd.

“We’ve had people calling two weeks ahead just wanting to know when we’re going to open. We’ve booked a party already,” Co-owner Dena Goody tells EastIdahoNews.com. “They’ve even contacted us through our Facebook page saying ‘Hey guys, I hope you’re doing great. We really miss you and hope your family’s safe and healthy.’ A lot of our customers are like family and it was really nice to hear that.”

Though there’s been a lot of interest and support in seeing the business reopen, Goody says there have been some changes in the way they operate. Phazer Tag and Bazooka Ball, the business’s most popular attractions, are temporarily unavailable.

Half of the employees are brand-new and Goody and her husband, Robert, have been busy training them for the last week. There is a $5 minimum purchase requirement for customers and a slight uptick in prices to compensate for demand increases for supplies and limitations on crowd sizes.

“A small tank of carbon dioxide for our Pepsi machine is $35. It was $10 not very long ago. We can’t absorb those types of increases so we have to find a way to mark up our stuff a little bit to change with the times,” Robert says.

The business is currently operating at 25% capacity, which allows for just under 350 people in the building at a time.

Day passes are also no longer available and the hours of operation have been adjusted.

But the most noticeable change, which has been met with the most reaction, is a new mask requirement for anyone 3 years and older. Those unwilling to wear a mask are asked not to come until the Goody’s deem it safe to be without them. Robert says there’s been some pushback to that policy.

“The reopening of our business has been more difficult than opening it in the beginning because of the division (about masks),” says Robert. “We’ve already taken phone calls on both sides of the fence. We’re making the best decisions that we can for us and our patrons and that’s not going to be agreeable for everybody.”

One reason for the mask policy stems from the couple’s personal experience with COVID-19. Their son, who is 33 and lives in Boise, is a COVID long hauler. He was diagnosed with the virus in June and is still experiencing symptoms.

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“He’s still having some very severe fatigue issues. He’s had all these heart tests and lung tests. (Doctors) did some kidney tests a month ago. His kidneys are fine but some of his test results came back a little funky,” Robert says. “Doctors have put him on steroids to see what that will do to clear it out of him. It’s helped him in some aspects, but hurt him in others.”

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Mask requirements and other changes will constantly be evaluated, Robert says, and will continually evolve as health guidelines are updated and the vaccine continues to rollout. Input from customers is also something they’re open to during this turbulent time.

“You can’t figure it out on paper or in your head sitting at home. You’ve got to open the doors, get the people coming in, listen to them, talk to them, get their input so that we can make good, sound decisions on what we need to do to accommodate and still feel safe in our environment,” he says.

Owners Robert and Dena Goody on Blast Off’s opening day after a yearlong shutdown. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

Enduring turbulent times

As Blast Off reopens for its 25th year of operation, the Goody’s say COVID-19 isn’t the only turbulent period they’ve experienced over the years. One of the most noteworthy times for them was the days and weeks following the terrorist attacks in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It was a hard thing to go through and I saw just the opposite after coronavirus. I had a guy today tell me he wished it was 9/12 because everybody in America was unified. I agree with that,” says Robert.

Robert also remembers the recession in 2008 and the housing crisis as another turbulent time for his business.

But the impact of COVID-19 has had the most widespread and long-lasting impact, Robert says, and recovering from it and getting back to normal is going to take a while.

“As soon as we feel comfortable about taking the restrictions away, we want them to go away. We’re not here to be the restricted play police. We’re just doing this because this is what we feel like we need to do and it’s divided everybody I know,” Robert says.

Looking ahead, the Goody’s say they’re planning to postpone their 25th-anniversary celebration until next January when things are hopefully back to normal. They’re hoping masks will be gone at that point.

They’re also looking into providing perks for customers who can provide proof of vaccination. Those perks are still being determined.

For now, they’re happy to be open and to be able to serve customers again.

“We joke that after working six and seven days a week for so many years that we decided to take our vacation time all in one year,” Dena says. “The last week we’ve been working out all the kinks, still unsure of what the future holds. We understand we may lose some customers because of our new policies, but dealing with this pandemic has taught us so much. We will rebuild our business but not at the expense of the health of our employees, customers, or ourselves.”

Blast Off is currently open from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Visit the website or Facebook page for more information.

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