As the owner of Bouncing Off the Wall indoor play space, Alissa Guthrie knows her competition well. On a recent Thursday afternoon, she was among parents standing at the center of what feels like a human popcorn machine: Mountain Air trampoline park.

Guthrie had taken her 9-year-old son and his friends to Mountain Air to celebrate his birthday. There’s no denying that Mountain Air appeals to older kids, she said, and that’s why she’s focused Bouncing Off the Wall’s operation on younger children since Mountain Air opened in November 2016.

“After Mountain Air opened, we saw a significant drop in our business,” she said.

The competition for a family’s free time and entertainment budget is only going to intensify this spring with the opening of Trampoline Zone and Pickleball Zone on NE 18th Street. Butch Roberts, who owns Cascade Indoor Sports, is building an adventure park on the ground floor of a three-story building that will feature eight indoor pickleball courts. Trampoline Zone will offer a “ninja course,” gladiator pit and laser maze, Roberts said.

Entrepreneurs are filling the gaps in Bend’s indoor recreation offerings, but they can find themselves tested by weather, economic stress and the latest, greatest trends.

Mountain Air is the newest game in town, and the timing of its opening, just before a historically snowy winter, couldn’t have been better. Even so, traffic slowed significantly over the summer, owner Brad Tucker said. This winter’s mild temperatures have shown him that the market for indoor entertainment can be fickle. Tucker said he’s glad he didn’t expand Mountain Air last year.

“There was definitely people telling us we should go bigger, but I think it’s a good size for the community,” he said.

This isn’t the first time competition has forced family entertainment venues to shift gears. Sun Mountain Fun Center, which is across U.S. Highway 97 from Mountain Air, opened as a bowling alley in 1995, co-owner Scott Ramsay said. Two years later, Lava Lanes opened on the east side of town. “It forced my parents to take a different approach to the business,” he said.

Scott Ramsay helped his parents, Ed and Cathy Ramsay, add go-karts, batting cages and an arcade. Now his daughter, Allison Ramsay, is helping the family plan the next evolution of the business, he said. And because the family owns Sun Mountain Fun Center’s 7 acres, they can afford to take their time responding to changes in the market.

“All of these things make a brief dent,” Ramsay said of the new competitors. “We’re fortunate, Bend is growing quickly enough. … We can all feel like we’re supported.”

Family tastes vary

The way Central Oregon families spend their free time doesn’t necessarily line up with the outdoorsy image projected by visitor marketing materials. Meadow Greco of Bend said she and her kids, 10 and 13, don’t do many outdoor activities. They’ll go to the pool at Juniper Swim and Fitness Center or, once in a while, to Sun Mountain Fun Center, she said.

Mountain Air has become the go-to place for entertainment since she discovered it for her daughter’s birthday party last fall. “This is great in the winter when they can’t go out,” she said while attending a school fundraiser at Mountain Air.

Another parent at Mountain Air, Laurie Mason, said she’s done a variety of activities with her 6-year-old daughter. They’ve gone ice skating at The Pavilion, which is owned by Bend Park & Recreation District, roller skating at Cascade Indoor Sports and, more recently, they attended a birthday party at Bend Rock Gym. Mason said she’d like to see more cultural events for kids.

“A children’s museum would be great,” she said.

Bend has not had a permanent children’s museum since Working Wonders Children’s Museum in the Old Mill closed in 2009. (Children’s Museum of Central Oregon is raising money for a building and holds pop-up events in the meantime.)

High overhead costs make Bend a tough place to be in the business of entertaining kids, Guthrie said. Bouncing Off the Wall, an 11,000 square-foot indoor space with inflatable play structures, opened 10 years ago on SE Centennial Court. Guthrie said she survived the recession because at the time there weren’t other options like it.

Last May though, Guthrie said she wasn’t sure how she’d keep the doors open. Bouncing Off the Wall has turned around since then by focusing on kids age 8 and under, Guthrie said. Offering story times, yoga and crafts is paying off as parents bring their kids on a regular basis, she said.

“They know there’s something different going on every day of the week,” she said.

Bouncing Off the Wall is also emphasizing that its $9 admission is good for the whole day, which is important to people who drive from Redmond or Prineville, Guthrie said.

Mountain Air charges $12 for an hour of jumping, and Trampoline Zone’s future prices will probably be time-based as well, Roberts said.

“We have a hard time keeping the doors open in the summer,” said Tucker, Mountain Air’s owner. “And I get it. When it’s summer I want to be out mountain biking and on the river.”

Kids still need something to do while their parents are working, so Mountain Air will offer day camps this summer, he said.

Tucker, who has four children, moved to Bend after living in Texas, where trampoline parks are common. While Bend had places to entertain his brood, there was nothing like a trampoline park, where the kids exert all their energy in an hour, he said.

Most trampoline parks are in larger metro areas, Tucker said, so he purposely built Mountain Air on a smaller scale for Bend. Tucker declined to talk about how he’ll deal with the competition from Trampoline Zone.

Roberts said his decision to build Trampoline Zone wasn’t aimed at the Tuckers, whose middle-school-age son is friends with his own middle-schooler. The facility has been in the works for years, he said, and it was driven mainly by the need for indoor pickleball, a paddle sport that’s played on a small court, mainly by seniors.

“You can’t pay for everything we’re doing with just pickleball and make it successful,” Roberts said. “We have to make it so it’s successful financially.”

The Pickleball Zone will be open to any player, not dominated by leagues, Roberts said. With two floors of activities, he figures kids, parents and grandparents can all find something to do in the same building.

After running Cascade Indoor Sports, which offers youth and adult indoor soccer leagues, roller skating and volleyball, for the past nine years, Roberts said he has a huge database of customers to whom he can market the new building.

“We have other things for you guys to do,” he said.

—Reporter: 541-617-7860