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Can you master The Art of Escape?

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Dec 1, 2017 at 7:49 PM

The Art of Escape, located at 232 E. Main St., held its grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, opening the doors to a place that, once entered, can be difficult to “escape.”

Those who visit the establishment will be challenged to solve puzzles and discover clues in order to make their way through mysterious, art-themed “escape rooms.” Some of the challenges are family-friendly activities geared toward children, but there are also other, more difficult puzzles geared toward adults.

Justin Young and his brother, Thomas, said they opened the establishment because of a shared passion for art and solving challenging puzzles. They design the puzzles in each room themselves, which they said will change periodically as the art themes change.

Much of the featured art will showcase art from the Young brothers, as well as art from some other local artists. The building is full of secrets and surprises, according to the Young brothers.

“We have room for four different themed rooms,” Justin said. “For instance, we have one called ‘Bring Back the ’90s.’ Everything in that room is themed from the ’90s, so we had a local artist paint us a couple pictures — one that’s a ‘Fresh Prince’ Carlton painting, one that has ‘The Simpsons’ – stuff like that.”

Thomas said he looks forward to seeing the puzzles challenge visitors as they make their way through the escape rooms as quickly as possible.

“Basically, you’re playing out the theme of the room. As you go, you get more clues, and as you get more clues, you get to go a little further into it,” he said. “It’s not that you’re locked or trapped, it’s that you’re trying to unlock the whole story. It’s a challenge because you have 60 minutes to complete the puzzles.” 

Though Thomas said the escape rooms and their art-themed puzzles differ from a classic funhouse in many ways, there are some similarities, such as the incorporation of perspective art and optical illusions. In other words, “stuff that tricks your eyes.”

“You’ll stand in a certain angle and it might look like a hallway that goes forever,” he said.

Interestingly, the two brothers found some clues about the building itself as they were renovating the building. When they worked to remove the wallpaper in the stairwell, they found a note from the year 1908 — shortly after the Johnson City fire of 1905 that devastated the downtown business district.

They even discovered the original cabinets and mirrors that were in the building dating back to the early 1900s, when the building was Beckner’s jewelry store from 1886 until the mid-1980s.

As they continued to dig deeper into the building’s history, Thomas said they uncovered some remnants from the fire in 1905, which inspired them to preserve the history of the structure’s interior.

“We had to rebuild a staircase built in 1908. When we did that, what happened was that we started uncovering some wood that was burned in the fire. It didn’t burn down the building, it’s just that the bricks in the front got so hot that it charred some of the wood inside,” he said.

Thomas said he’s been working on building a desk out of the wood.

“That’s one thing we really like doing. Taking something old and making use of it,” he said.

And that’s part of the spirit of the two brothers’ new business.

“After Beckner’s was done with the building, it had a tarot card reading place upstairs, it’s been a jazz club and The Hideaway was here for a year,” Thomas said. “So it’s been little bit of everything, which is pretty cool.”

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