When Laser Mania on Hardy Street was forced to temporarily shut its doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the owner decided to retire with no plans to reopen the business.
But that turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Matt Beall and his family, who stepped in and bought the place to bring some much-needed entertainment to Hattiesburg residents – as well as those from other states – whose activities had been restricted by regulations for the virus.
“We came in and said, ‘We think Hattiesburg needs a place like this; they need a place where kids can come, play arcades and billiards and laser tag and have a great time,” Beall said. “We can do birthday parties in a safe, clean environment, and so we bought it.
“The thing that kept us from opening was getting our business license – it took us over a month to get that. So that gave us time to clean, modernize a little bit, make everything look as good as it can.”
When that license finally came in on July 6, Beall and his two sons – Chandler and Ian – wasted no time getting the place open, welcoming their first guests the very next day.
Although Beall expected to use that day to kind of “go through the motions” and freshen up the activities of the business, guests came in as soon as he opened the doors.
“Our first customers were a family from Florida that just so happened to be driving through Hattiesburg, and they came in and played laser tag,” Beall said. “They had a great time, and we learned a lot; it was trial by fire.
“So far, we’ve done no advertising yet; we did fix the marquee out front and we’ve got some messages out there by word of mouth and other people just posting that they’ve been here. But really it’s been out-of-town people; we’ve had people come from Kokomo, people from the Coast, people from Jackson, people from McComb.”
The lobby of the business features assorted video games, from pinball to standard arcade cabinets and foosball.
In the near future, Beall plans to give the place a more retro theme, getting more ‘80s arcade games.
There’s also space upstairs for birthday parties and celebrations.
Of course, the most popular attraction is the laser tag, with a few different options of gameplay. During the week, players can do 10-minute games, with a special for three games for a discounted price.
On Friday nights, Laser Mania hosts the Blast-a-Thon, when players can play one price and play for three hours.
A 6-9 p.m. block runs for $15, or a 9 p.m.-midnight block costs $10.
“Most people that come in here, they just want it to be very simple – we play a team game, one team against the other, or we play Anarchy, which is everybody against everybody,” Beall said. “It’s very quick and easy to come in and tell everybody how to play.
“We talked to some (other laser tag places with more advanced things), but what we found is that simplest is better – either I’m tagging you or you’re tagging me,” Beall said. “There’s nothing to recharge, nothing to reload, no lives or anything like that. You just see who can tag each other the most; it’s very simple and very fun.”
Officials take precautions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including regularly cleaning the gear.
“All the buttons, all the joysticks, everything is always cleaned very regularly,” Beall said. “We abide by the rules – when we got our license, they gave us a thing to go by, and we can only have so many people in here, which is not what we’re normally used to. We all wear masks, and we constantly do things according to the guidelines.”