ROCKPORT — Tiffany Ford has plans to open a new business in Rockport which will offer entertainment to all ages and bring a concept sweeping the country to the Midcoast: “escape rooms.” Escape rooms are spaces that have been converted to offer a themed experience where groups work together to solve puzzles, reveal clues and extricate themselves from a locked-room environment within a set period of time.
“Today people are so involved in technology and social media, and our lives are so busy that it’s rare to do something where you share an experience with your family or friends where you are forced to interact with one another,” said Ford, on April 26. “Escape rooms offer interactive adventures where you really get a chance to work together. It’s going to be so exciting.”
For the past 13 years, Ford has owned and operated On the Water in Maine, a company managing vacation rental properties throughout the state. Her experience working with clients who come seek out Maine as a vacation destination and providing them with activities for their visits was one of the catalysts for her decision to open a business in the area which will offer year-round entertainment, even on rainy days.
“What do most of us do when it’s a rainy day? Maybe go to the movies, but then you’re just sitting with one another in the dark and not talking,” she said. “My plan is for an environment where you can have fun but also engage with each other.”
Ford is currently in the process of purchasing 461 Commercial Street (Route 1) in Rockport, a property which has recently been home to businesses such as State of Maine Cheese Company and Main Street Meats.
Spanning two floors, the buildings offers some 14,000 square feet of space. The lower level of the structure houses a commercial kitchen space, which will be rented to two commercial food producers, leaving Ford with approximately 10,000 square feet in which to create her vision.
The upstairs of the building is ideal for the escape room concept as it is already divided into rooms connected by a long hallway (Ford plans to start with four escape rooms initially.)
The rooms will be individually decorated and geared to all different audiences: some will be more difficult or spooky depending on theme, others will be suitable for young children and families. The rooms will also each be outfitted with television screens and closed circuit camera systems, which employees will use to lead participants through the challenges.
Downstairs, Ford envisions an area that will offer an arcade as well as three pool tables, hoping to provide billiard enthusiasts in the area a new place to meet, as well as an area where children and their parents can play a variety of games between escape room visits, which typically last one hour.
A mother of two, Ford has visited a number of escape rooms throughout the country, and says that invariably they leave with smiles on their faces and excitement to return for another challenge. The availability of multiple rooms will also allow her staff to rework the spaces periodically with new themes and mysteries so no one concept ever goes stale.
A unique aspect of Ford’s background which lends itself naturally to the escape room concept is her extensive knowledge of forensic science, having worked as a member of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Washington D.C., and currently serving as one of Maine’s only forensic scientists specializing in handwriting analysis.
“I’m definitely an abstract thinker and I love thinking analytically, so I cannot wait to develop puzzles and watch people try to escape,” said Ford. “Escape rooms are fun for friends, families or even strangers because they force you to think in a different way, and with every second of the clock ticking and time running out, it really gets your adrenaline going. I want to make my customers happy and give people on the midcoast and new visitors to the area a quality experience that they’ll really enjoy.”
Ford made her initial appearance before the Rockport Planning Board on April 24, and will return to offer further details to the board next month. She hopes to open the new business at the beginning of October.