For Alexander, escape rooms business ‘not even a job, it’s a hobby. I like doing it’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 19, 2023

SALISBURY — If you walk down the side of Council Street Commons, you’ll notice an open door that will take you to a casino. It’s not everyday a group of people can go to a casino in downtown Salisbury. And then have to work to escape.

Henry Alexander is the owner of Escape Central, a local business where customers are placed in a specially themed room and must solve several riddles and puzzles to get out and win the game. The casino is one example.

“They are difficult, they are not easy, but they are solvable. We recommend at least three people per room because they’re just too difficult with two,” Alexander said.

A few years ago, another escape room business started in the same location where Escape Central is now. Alexander happens to own the whole building and when the people who ran the escape room decided it was not for them, he decided to start his own escape room business, even if he was a little in the dark about the idea when they first approached him.

“I didn’t intend to start this business. … I didn’t know what an escape room was,” Alexander said.

Alexander came up with his own escape room categories, storylines, clues and answers all on his own. There are four rooms: The Jail, The Casino, Agatha’s Room, and The Curiosity Shop. Alexander’s favorite part of the escape rooms isn’t coming up with the riddles, but the people who come in to try it themselves.

“I enjoy doing the escape rooms, it’s a fact. I like to watch the people have fun, I like to see how they think, how they solve the things. Sometimes it’s surprising how good they are and sometimes they get stumped,” Alexander said. “It is not even a job, it’s a hobby. I like doing it.”

Up to six people is an ideal group to escape a room according to Alexander. Local businesses and schools have come and tried it out as a team building exercise. People normally set up an appointment to come, but walk-ins are a pretty regular thing.

“It’s surprising how many times I have been leaving the building here thinking I was done. There was nobody else coming in. I would walk outside the door and there’d be a crowd,” Alexander said.

Alexander likes to revamp the rooms if they are too easy or hard. If anyone solves one of the rooms in 15 minutes or less, he will give them another room for free. Each group has an hour to solve the game. They can receive hints from Alexander, but not the actual answers. The record for shortest escape is seven minutes. “It was done by a high schooler out of Albemarle. I can’t tell you how she solved it either because that would be giving too big a clue,” Alexander said.

Escape rooms are a unique way for people to have fun and spend time together. Alexander says he’s working with other businesses to start an entertainment area to go along with Escape Central. He expects to have a karaoke room in the future. He has heard from customers that Escape Central is a rewarding experience, but only if they solve the puzzles. For those who cannot, it can be a long hour.

“One lady told me, ‘I can’t believe that we pay you to torture us.’ And I said,’ Yes you do.”