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Publish Date: 10/8/2005

Josh Romero, 18, and Erin Bossard, 19, battle it out while playing Soul Caliber on Thursday at NET-topia in the Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont. Times-Call/Kristen Goode

Place of their own
Several local businesses offer teens fun alternatives for a hangout

LONGMONT — Sometimes they congregate at coffeehouses, especially near schools. Other times they bowl. They visit Twin Peaks Mall to watch movies or shop — although some think the theater should be modernized.

The usual teen hangouts have been the same for decades, but when asked what else there is to do in Longmont, local teens shrug.

“When I think about activities for teens — businesses catering to teens — not a ton comes up in my mind,” said Kevin Huyn, 17, a senior at Niwot High School.

He and other teens say they would like minature golf, amusement parks with bumper cars and go-carts to come to Longmont. More arcades. A climbing gym. A ropes course.

“I would like to see a little place where local school bands — rock bands — where we could go hang out and we could hear music,” says Amy Vue, 17, a senior at Niwot High School.

Several Longmont businesses see the teen market as a niche and are trying hard to appeal to a younger crowd.

Hanging at the coffee shops

Jessica Baldo was not much older than a teen herself when she opened the Daily Bean with her brother in 2001. Now 29 and in business with her boyfriend, she is trying to encourage teens to hang out in her cozy coffeehouse, which is bathed in light blue paint with dark blue swirls.

A huge sign, “frozen espresso drinks,” hangs from the window. It’s a favorite drink for teens, Baldo says. The shop also offers sandwiches, parfaits, shakes and, of course, coffee.

Reaching out to a younger crowd, she says, “is supporting the community, so that kids can have a place to go, and they are not cruising down Main Street.”

Though students and teachers from nearby Faith Baptist School have frequented the Daily Bean for years, Baldo is trying to encourage more teens to come in. She expanded the store’s hour, added free wireless Internet service and plans to get an Xbox video game player. She hopes the expanded hours will encourage kids to hold book club, yearbook and other meetings at her store.

Her teen focus appears to be working.

On a recent evening, four teens played poker in the front room. In the back, a teenage group from LifeBridge Christian Church played euchre, another card game.

Josh Hart, 22, an intern at LifeBridge and the oldest of the group, says the extended hours will allow him to lead a disciple group at the Daily Bean.

“I like the atmosphere here,” says Hart, reclining on a couch. “I like that the wireless Internet is free, and I like the coffee.”

Two teens from the church sit on the floor, their cards splayed on a low table among cell phones and an empty coffee cup. It’s 5:30 p.m., and they have been at the shop for almost three hours.

“It’s really nice to do homework here,” says Elyse Buschard, 17, a senior at Skyline High School.

Kaylee Wilson, 15, a Skyline High School sophomore says she likes coming to the shop because the employees are teenagers.

Socializing is the main motivation many teens frequent such establishments, says Michael Wood, vice present of Teenage Research Unlimited, a Northbrook, Ill., market research firm specializing in youth.

“Part of the appeal to these coffeehouses is that they have an open-door policy,” he says. “They are not just saying, ‘You have a 10-minute limit. You have to buy something.’”

Hanging at the mall

Twin Peaks Mall general manager Nancy Rezac says teens are encouraged to frequent the mall. Many visit Net-topia, a video and Internet gaming arcade; Cyberstation, a more traditional arcade; and the movie theater. They also shop at teen-oriented stores.

“We have a number of businesses that cater to their desires,” Rezac says.

Safari Mini Golf, a glow-in-the-dark miniature golf business, will return to the mall in November and occupy the former Walgreens for at least a year, she says. The owner decided to return after his previous business, Jungle Putt, did well in the mall, she says.

Kids congregating in groups can sometimes be a problem, Rezac says, but mall security can usually encourage them to disperse. Unlike some malls across the country, Twin Peaks Mall doesn’t impose a teen curfew; however, the mall’s movie theater enforces a midnight curfew, and will not admit teens to movies ending after that.

When Dean Tanenbaum taught English and literature in Asia, he noticed Internet arcades on every block. When he returned to his hometown of Longmont, he decided to open one with his best friend.

Their arcade, Net-topia, offers Xbox video and PC games, as well as e-mail access and video conferencing.

“Longmont has (only) movies, bowling or drinking — this is what I hear from kids,” Tanenbaum, 39, says.

Most business happens after school and during weekends and holidays, he says. Teenage boys usually play the Xbox shooting game “Halo,” he says. Girls like “Dance Dance Revolution,” a video dancing game.

Though Net-topia is the only Internet arcade in the area, Tanenbaum says it’s still not easy to attract the teen crowd.

“Kids have computers and TVs at home,” he says. “It’s a different market (than in Asia).”

Still, Tanenbaum says Net-topia has always been “in the black,” but barely. About 80 percent of his business comes from the 12- to 18-year-old crowd, he says.

“Although we have people who don’t fit traditionally into the ‘in’ crowd, it’s a place they can hang out and it’s safe from language, bad behavior … anything. I try to keep the place where everyone can go and be safe,” he says.

This week, Tanenbaum also plans to open a new restaurant inside Net-topia that will include a teen-friendly menu — hamburgers, hot dogs and “anything fried,” including deep-fried Twinkies and deep-fried candy bars.

“I’m really dedicated to making this work,” he says.

Other options for teens

It’s Friday night and about 25 people — mostly teens — are playing card and board games at Stonebridge Games on Main Street. Owner Eugene Waara calls it a “light night.” Fridays usually bring in between 30 and 50 players for tournaments, he says.

Wearing a black T-shirt and black baseball cap turned backward with reflector sunglasses perched on top, Chris Moran flips a magic card.

“Is that it?” Josh Karpel, 13, asked, tapping on the table. He travels from Lyons one to two times each month to play.

“I declare Magic,” says Moran.

Moran flips his two cards back and forth in a nervous habit before putting one down and saying the card’s name, “Rend Spirit.”

Waara dreamed about opening a game store in a safe environment for more than a decade. In March 2004, he and his wife opened Stonebridge after moving to Longmont. It wasn’t that he saw a particular niche here, Waara, 47, says. He saw a niche nationwide.

“When you sell someone a game, you need to give them a place to play,” he says. “There are game stores all over the country. My concept is to bring people together.”

The store sells collectible card games like Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh! , role-playing games, board games, books and game accessories. Customers can play games with the store’s owners and managers, who learn every game before it’s placed on the shelves. Of the store’s 3,000 square feet, about 40 percent is devoted to playing space.

“Kids don’t have a lot to do,” Waara says. “Whether school-age kids, teenagers, adults, families — we’re offering something no one else has.”

Revenues have grown steadily, he says, and this summer’s sales equaled the previous Christmas season’s. Most revenues come from game sales, and more than 50 percent of his customers are teens. Tournaments, though popular, account for 5 percent to 10 percent of his business, although they bring in people who later buy products.

Moran, who plays at the store two to three times a month, says Stonebridge is one of the best game stores he’s been to in a long time.

“The people are great,” he says. “The owners care for the players, and it’s close.”

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