The Airdrie community is rallying behind a locally owned play centre in East Balzac.
In late February, Taleah Beecher started a GoFund Me page for the Fuller family, who owns Big Fun Inflatable Park. The family-focused play centre is located just east of CrossIron Mills mall and features a variety of bouncy castles and inflatable play structures.
According to Derek Fuller, who owns the business, Big Fun has been closed since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, apart from a two-month spell last fall. After reopening with 25 per cent occupancy on Oct. 8, 2020, he said the business was ordered to close down again in December, amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in Alberta.
“Long story short, it's been devastating for us,” Fuller said. “But, on a positive note…it's been really cool to see the local people come together and offer us support, encouragement and things like the GoFund Me. We had another customer that sells shirts and they sold a bunch of shirts for us that brought in some extra money to help as well.”
Fuller, whose family moved to Airdrie from Saskatchewan in 2014, said he opened Big Fun in November 2017. After a career in corporate finance, he said he saw a local demand for a family-focused entertainment centre.
He added the 30,000-square-foot facility offers families of young children something fun to do, particularly during the cold winter months.
“We had four young boys, literally babies at that point, and it was just something we recognized as a huge need in the community,” he said. “There wasn't a place where families could go let loose and have fun.”
According to Fuller, the business enjoyed a successful first two and a half years of operation. Just prior to the onset of the pandemic, he said the family was even close to opening a second location.
Now, he said their expansion plans have taken a back seat as they prepare to spend the next few years rebuilding and recovering from the pandemic. Though he didn’t want to publicly disclose the financial impact the pandemic has had on Big Fun, Fuller confirmed the amount has been “devastating” for the business, which he added has monthly expenses in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“We're basically out of money, other than selling our personal stuff, and that's what we resorted to – selling our personal items in the hopes that money can be used to shore up any shortfalls,” he said.
While Fuller said the business has taken advantage of the various government support programs related to the pandemic, he said the additional tax attached to those programs has often ended up making matters more difficult.
In February, he said the family was even considering shutting down the business.
“We had reached a point, emotionally, mentally and financially, where it was like we couldn't keep it going,” he said.
“It was going to be time to start finding a way out, whether that's a bankruptcy situation or whatever. We didn't have any available options at that time, and everything was kind of spiralling out of control. We accepted it was maybe time to end it.”
It was that very day, according to Fuller, that Beecher – a frequent visitor of the play centre – started the GoFund Me page. Since then, the page has generated more than $4,000 from 81 donors, as of March 7.
While the amount raised is just a fraction of Big Fun’s monthly expenses, Fuller said the sentiment behind the community support has been extremely powerful.
“Honestly, I had a little breakdown in tears, as a 40-year-old grown man,” he said.
“I don't believe any of these people are donating to Big Fun, necessarily. They're looking at us going, 'Oh my goodness, you guys have had your lives devastated. We can help.' That has been unbelievable. It's humbling and it gives us hope beyond what anyone I think understands.”
On another positive note, Fuller noted that since the page was posted, he has been able to secure some additional funding through a third party.
“That has basically bought us what we believe to be enough time,” he said. “That's exciting."
Beecher’s GoFund Me page can be found at bit.ly/3tjMo4X