By Hannah Lester
Elaine and Simon Bak were just beginning to feel that their business was recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic when tragedy struck CyberZone Entertainment Center again.
Last week, while having a new roof installed, Elaine and Simon realized that their business had been devastated from the heavy June rain.
CyberZone has been an Opelika location for laser tag, arcade games and entertainment for the last eight years.
The business began in Tennessee, but Elaine and Simon relocated it to Opelika in 2013. Since then, it has grown and changed, bit by bit, to the thriving business on N. 9th St. that attracts not only local visitors, but travelers from other parts of the state.
The Baks decided to replace the roof of CyberZone but did not realize the decision would result in their business closing indefinitely.
“We hired a roofing company and as a business we did our due diligence where we got a copy of their insurance, we got references, we checked references, from what we saw, they weren’t the cheapest bid we got, they weren’t the highest bid,” Simon said. “We kind of just went in the middle.”
Everyone knew rain was coming, Simon said, but they did not realize the roof was not secured.
In a business that relies on electronics and wiring for games and technology, rain pouring in from the roof is game-changing.
At that point, it was not clear how bad the damage was. But imagine – a second rainstorm was coming.
“We had moved some equipment, but not a lot, because we were in the process of cleanup,” Simon said.
For the next several days, there was an inch of water on the floor, soaked into everything, and it continued to drip from the roof.
“We’d lost roughly 29 machines,” Simon said.
Everything else they moved to the sides of the business where things were drier.
“The unfortunate part, is Friday evening, they continued to do the roof … They didn’t take into consideration there was so much water saturation, because the water got inside the roof at that point, the old roof, that when they were screwing through the roof, we got leaked in again,” Simon said. “So everything that we moved got saturated.”
“We just got over the hurdle of COVID,” Simon said. “Our sales were finally getting back to pre-COVID numbers. We were finally able to hire enough people to open, all restrictions came off, April, May, June, so we were excited … And here we are back at ground zero.”
Simon said at this point that they still are not sure the roof is finished.
It will be a while before CyberZone can open to the public again. There are a lot of elements that will need replacing: flooring, ceiling tiles, wiring, electronics, games.
“We lost everything,” Simon said.
One of the hard parts is that despite updating all social media channels and the website, CyberZone is still seeing guests show up, ready to play.
Simon and Elaine have to turn away guests from Opelika, but also those who drove from Columbus or Wetumpka.
“We don’t have a time frame [for reopening] yet,” Simon said. “Because it’s all based on if we can get equipment and we can get this. But if we do a 90-day time frame, for example, that’s our game plan, is to try and get it up within three months.”
Another difficulty that comes with closing is having to tell the staff that there’s no work.
“We’ve always been lucky in that it’s really, and if you talk to anybody that’s ever worked here, it’s really a tight-knit close family,” Elaine said. “ We all know each other, we all help each other in and out of the business.”
When COVID-19 happened, Elaine and Simon had to tell all of their staffers they would be closing. And now, they have to do it again.
“I feel, especially the handful that went through this with us through COVID, they may have supplemented what they did with extra stuff but they were there throughout and they were here day one when we reopened,” she said. “There’s a ton of loyalty.”
Both hope that their staff members will return when CyberZone is ready to reopen.
“We’re rebuilding,” Simon said. “And it’s not ‘if’, we are rebuilding. We have to rebuild and we will be better.”