Paul Bunyan, look out: Ax-throwing business to open in downtown Lawrence
photo by: Journal-World photo/Chad Lawhorn
I know when I bowl, I’m sometimes required to yell “Fore!” I’m not quite sure what happens when I step up to an ax-throwing lane. We’ll soon find out because a new ax-throwing business is set to open in downtown Lawrence.
Matt Baysinger — the Lawrence resident behind the ideas of the Breakout Lawrence escape room and Mass Street Soda Shop — is opening Blade & Timber at 809 Massachusetts St., which is the former location of the Fortuity boutique.
Blade & Timber, which has two locations in Kansas City, is an ax-throwing business. If you are confused, don’t overthink it. The Lawrence location will have four lanes. You can rent a spot in the lane for $20 for 90 minutes. You get a three-and-a-half pound hatchet and a coach who guarantees to teach you how to throw an ax in less than five minutes. Then, take aim and throw at the target that is 12 to 15 feet away.
If you are wondering why, you may be overthinking it.
“It is cathartic, and it just fits with the overall principle that people like doing fun things,” Baysinger said. “I think people tend to forget that.”
Maybe a better question is how — as in how did Baysinger and business partner Ryan Henrich come up with this idea? Baysinger said the business is always on the lookout for unique ways of having fun. They began to notice reports about two years ago that ax throwing was a growing trend in London and Toronto.
So, back at the corporate headquarters, they had a meeting and decided to build an ax-throwing lane in the office. (Dang it. I’ve sat through at least a hundred corporate meetings where I’ve definitely had the idea that ax throwing is the right solution.)
“We call the office our sandbox because we play with a lot of things here,” Baysinger said. “We started to notice that at lunch breaks employees weren’t playing ping pong or arcade games. They were throwing axes. We thought we might be on to something.”
One worry was that it may be too difficult to teach people to throw an ax. The company ended up testing 18 types of axes and ultimately figured out that throwing one isn’t as difficult as you might think.
“We got to the point where we could teach anybody to throw an ax and stick it in five minutes,” Baysinger said. “My mom is 110 pounds soaking wet, and she can throw it and stick it underhand. I think that is part of the fun. You use a skill you didn’t even know you had.”
Of course, another worry was safety. Baysinger said the two locations in Kansas City have served thousands without incident. He said the business has a significant safety program, but it starts with having coaches always near the throwing lanes. In Lawrence, there always will be one coach per every two lanes, Baysinger said. In addition to providing instruction, the coach is there to ensure that people act appropriately with the ax.
“There is a zero-tolerance policy on shenanigans,” Baysinger said. “You have to respect the importance of our safety procedures.”
There also is another consideration on the safety front: alcohol. Baysinger said one of the two locations in Kansas City does serve beer. He said the Lawrence location will open without a liquor license, but he hasn’t ruled out adding a beer bar to the business in the future. (It may be more complicated in downtown, given that new liquor establishments also must meet certain food requirements.)
He said at facilities that serve alcohol the safety policy includes rules that no one can be served more than three beers in a 90-minute throwing session. He also said the business serves only 3.2 beer. No hard liquor is served.
Baysinger thinks the Lawrence location will open in the next one to two weeks after he finalizes some building permit issues, which will allow for the rest of the renovation work to be completed.
In addition to the throwing lanes, the Lawrence location actually will have a small retail space that will sell some axes and other accessories.
Yes, he knows the whole idea sounds crazy. But so did the idea of a Breakout escape room business, which has now expanded to five cities. So too, in some ways, did Mass Street Soda Shop, which he has since sold to his one-time business partner.
But Baysinger said he has learned that people really are craving unique experiences. Still, he admits that when he walks into his office and sees an ax-throwing lane, he sometimes asks himself, “Is this real life?”
“If you would have told me when I was 6 that I would be the operator of a professional ax-throwing facility at age 32, I probably would have felt pretty good as a 6-year-old,” Baysinger said. “And I feel good today because we are helping create great memories with friends and family.”