The escape room phenomenon across the country is slowly catching on in Santa Fe.
The entry of Colorado-based Puzzah! and its three-room facility at the Santa Fe Railyard will be the city’s second escape room after Escape Santa Fe introduced the concept here last February in the Luna building, 505 Cerrillos Road.
Puzzah! will fill 2,800 square feet in the Railyard’s Market Station, 500 Market St., the same building that houses REI Co-op. Co-founder Rayan Pachmayer expects to open either the second or third week in March.
Escape rooms typically lock a group of people in a themed room, and the objective is for them to find clues and solve riddles and puzzles to break out. Puzzah!, however, does not employ locks and instead relies on high-tech missions that players carry out.
Puzzah! in Santa Fe will offer three missions: M.A.S.K., a secret agent caper; Specimen, a spaceship that needs to return to Earth; and Night Shade, which Pachmayer describes as a pizza parlor haunted by a ghost that needs to be found — “It’s kind of like a Scooby-Doo cartoon,” he said.
Puzzah! is among the pioneers on the American escape room scene. The company opened its first escape room in January 2014 in downtown Denver’s LoDo District.
“I think there may have been five escape rooms in the country then,” Pachmayer said. “We weren’t sure it was going to go.”
Room Escape Artist, a website that tracks escape rooms worldwide, counted 22 U.S. escape rooms in 2014 and now has a list of 2,396. The site lists 12 escape rooms in New Mexico, in Albuquerque, Aztec, Clovis, Las Cruces, Los Lunas, Roswell and Santa Fe.
The first escape room opened in Japan in 2007, with escape rooms spreading to Singapore and Hungary in 2011, and a Japanese company opening in San Francisco in 2012. Puzzle Break in Seattle was the first American escape room company in 2013, according to several escape room sources.
Puzzah! bypassed the rest of Colorado for its third escape room and continued down Interstate 25 to Santa Fe. Pachmayer has relatives in New Mexico.
“It’s an area I like,” Pachmayer said. “Going to Santa Fe doesn’t feel like out of state.”
With the state Capitol downtown, Santa Fe ideally fits the profile for Puzzah! customer base of corporate, family and tourism groups, and proximity to the Santa Fe Farmers Market and New Mexico Rail Runner Express commuter trains are favorable, he said.
Puzzah! looked at eight Santa Fe locations, mostly in the downtown area and one near Meow Wolf, before settling on the Railyard, Pachmayer said.
“The Railyard wanted us to be there,” he said.
The Market Station building, which went through bankruptcy proceedings in 2017, has 9,000 square feet in ground floor vacancies and 17,000 square feet vacant on the second floor, said Jim Dountas, first vice president at CBRE New Mexico, the exclusive leasing broker of Market Station for the building’s owner, Thorofare Capital.
“We are excited to have them,” Dountas said. “We are working on various other leases to occupy the vacant space in the food, entertainment and office categories.”
He said all 9,000 square feet on the ground floor are under lease negotiations. As has become common on the retail scene following the 2008 financial crisis, commercial real estate nationwide has embraced alternative uses for retail space, including churches, libraries, paint ball venues — and escape rooms.
“As the retail market continues to change and evolve, alternate uses to traditional retail spaces are becoming more prevalent,” said Shona Martinez, an associate broker at Colliers International New Mexico in Albuquerque, who represented Puzzah! in the lease negotiations.
“In particular, entertainment concepts from large formats like Main Event [bowling and game center] and Urban Air [trampoline park] to smaller formats like the escape room. Santa Fe is joining the rest of the country and world by embracing [the escape room] phenomenon, which has become the next best experiential attraction for millennials and Gen Z’ers.”