By Anne Bennett
Soon after COVID-19 began to spread, the “questing” center Boda Borg, one of Malden’s premiere destinations, was forced to shut down. Boda Borg, where almost 200,000 annual visitors use their wits to solve puzzles and escape routes, has been out of service since March 2020, with the exception of three weeks in October.
Chad Ellis, one of the owners of Malden’s branch of Boda Borg, said the operation “is just totally dependent on the physical space we are in.” The staff has no choice but to “hunker down” until the next stage of reopening in Massachusetts, Ellis said. Boda Borg is an international franchise; the only U.S. location is in Malden.
While the closure has been hard on Ellis and his staff, it has also created ripples in other local businesses by reducing their customers. Kevin Duffy, the Strategy and Business Development Officer for the City of Malden, believes that fewer people coming into town for Boda Borg means that fewer patrons are available to spend money at nearby restaurants and stores.
Ellis calculated that less than five percent of his guests are residents of Malden. For example, Lucy Teixeira lives on Cape Cod but has still traveled to Malden over 50 times, solely for Boda Borg. She says that she usually ends up eating at a local restaurant when she has finished questing.
Duffy said once the customers are back, then “everyone’s going to be all right” and hopes that “by the end of the fall we (Malden) should be back to thriving.”
Ellis has been able to make ends meet with help from the community. Duffy said that the mayor’s office has been doing all they can, saying, “We’ve helped them find the resources on the state level… and that’s been helping them kind of keep going until they can reopen.”
Ellis agreed, saying, “The city’s been very helpful in terms of connecting us with the right people… they’ve advocated for us.” He added, “I don’t think there’s anything they could do that they haven’t done.”
The business also received an economic recovery grant from Massachusetts under the Paycheck Protection Program. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) visited Malden Center and met with two local businesses, including Boda Borg. He emphasized that “a lot of them (Boda Borg’s customers) are going into Malden restaurants and buying stuff in Malden Square.” Markey encouraged spectators to partake in the attraction once it reopens, saying “Once we go ‘full Boda Borg’ again, any of you who are here… you’ve got to come in here. It’s fantastic.” Markey playfully admitted that he himself did not anticipate succeeding at questing, saying that his wife would likely do much better.
Mai Luo, the owner of Boda Borg’s building, has worked with Ellis on rent reduction until the business can reopen. Ellis said that Luo “was very supportive and basically agreed to defer half of the rent.”
Boda Borg’s closure may not last much longer. Governor Baker announced that the Commonwealth should move into the next stage on March 1, opening the door for Boda Borg to act in a limited capacity. “When Massachusetts is ready to move forward into step two of stage three… we feel very confident about opening safely in that environment,” Ellis said.
Teixeira visited in October during the temporary reopening and was very pleased with the safety precautions, as she describes herself as a high-risk individual. “I absolutely had to do Boda Borg… it’s literally my therapy. Going there, I was a little scared but when I saw how awesome the staff was being and how clean it was, I felt totally comfortable.” She said that she would definitely be comfortable returning when she is able to do so.
To its loyal customers, the employees, and the many businesses that enjoy the increase of consumers, Boda Borg’s reopening cannot come soon enough. Teixeira said, “I really hope they do come back. I think the management and the staff are serious about making sure everyone feels safe.”
Duffy, too, hopes to see the relaunch of this centerpiece for Malden. “People believe that Malden will come back,” he said. But for now, Ellis said, “Stay tuned and when we open, let people know.”