LEOMINSTER — Rows of people were lined up when Launch first opened for the day on Wednesday morning, a testament to the popularity of the family friendly entertainment center that opened its doors last month.
To say that the sixth Launch franchise in the state which is owned and operated by husband-and-wife business partners Mark and Christine Emma has been welcomed with open arms by the greater community is an understatement — particularly as the local options for family fun have diminished since Roll on America and Mason Bowling closed their doors for good in recent years.
“We did this for the community,” Mark expressed. “We wanted to bring something back to the area and help out the community and be a part of it.”
He said that while they “got slammed the first two weekends” they were open, he noted overall, the response from everyone who has visited so far “has been very positive.”
Launch is housed in the former longtime location of the Toys ‘R’ Us store at The Mall at Whitney Field, which most recently was the home of Gardner Furniture, who moved into where Macy’s used to be. Mark said their objective from the beginning has been to provide a fun, safe place for families, tweens and teens, and children and people of all ages to enjoy.
There are several elements to choose from when building your Launch experience including bowling, a ninja course, the arcade, a trampoline park, which Mark said, “is always full,” virtual reality games, laser tag, dodgeball, a full bar and restaurant, and the XP Arena, where patrons utilize obstacles to tag different lights with an RFID wristband.
“I love to see the kids enjoying everything,” Mark shared about what he likes most about their business venture and watching the people who visit, adding that the popularity of bowling “kind of surprised me.”
“It’s all coming together and it’s a nice place.”
His wife of 24 years echoed his sentiments, saying that “the best part is the excitement from people.”
“Everyone is so grateful,” Christine said. “It’s such a smashing success and we are giving back the way we wanted to. Even the parents are excited, it is just so rewarding to be able to provide that.”
They tore down a wall on the second floor and added large windows to create a party room and recently added birthday parties to their menu. The large space upstairs can be rented out as a whole or in different size sections by dividers and there is also an Americans with Disabilities Act accessible spot on the first floor.
Those areas also be used for corporate events and Christine said her favorite spot in the place is “where you can see the whole park” through the large windows on the second floor that overlook the entire space below.
The couple bought their first house in Leominster when they got married and then moved to Lunenburg 17 years ago. Not surprisingly one of the biggest Launch fans is their son Sam, who just turned 13 and was “one of the main drivers” in opening the center.
“He loves it,” they said.
Christine said at first, the newly minted teenager was hesitant to tell people about his family’s business but quickly did a 180 and enjoys bringing friends by.
“He feels like a celebrity,” his mom said with a smile, adding that when Sam sees kids at the center who need help or something he doesn’t hesitate to step in.
Mark said they have hosted some community events and plan to do more. One recent celebration was for Sam’s basketball team when they won the championship. Mark said they opened Launch on a day off and the kids had a blast.
A ribbon cutting was held on Friday morning to officially welcome Launch to Leominster. Mark said they “worked very closely with the city and the mall owner” to get Launch opened and that they are “very excited” to have them there.
He went on to say that they have had “a steady flow” of customers since opening last month and with this past week being April school vacation, they decided to open on Monday and Tuesday, days they are typically closed.
While there have been some “operational challenges” including the “rush of attendance,” Mark said they are “working out the kinks.”
“We’re getting our legs under us,” he said.
They both give a lot of credit to their dedicated team members who help keep Launch running successfully. Over 300 people initially applied for jobs at Launch and as of press time they have dozens of part-time staff with plans to add more from that pool of applicants.
Christine, a self-proclaimed “clean freak,” said they “have a fantastic cleaning crew” who works hard to keep the entire place, including the bathrooms, “spotless.” She showed off the “nice break room” for the staff and said the age of team members range from teenagers to seniors.
“We want people to enjoy working here.”
The couple both have other jobs on top of Launch and while they “try not to be here all the time,” they truly enjoy being hands on.
“Time flies when you’re in here,” Christine said, adding that she enjoys seeing “all the smiles and all the joy.”
They said they have customers coming to Launch “from all different directions” in Central Mass. and across the state, including Worcester and beyond such as New Hampshire and more. Leominster resident Chris Premo brought his 10-year-old daughter Meora Premo to Launch on Wednesday, their second time there, and watched her enjoy a virtual reality session.
“It’s fun and I don’t have to drive far,” Chris said of the ideal location.
Mark said this is exactly why they wanted to open Launch — to provide a local place where families can enjoy some time together in fun environment.
“That was the key, safe family fun,” he shared. “People have thanked us and want to shake our hands.”