Out: Dry Cleaning In: Flying Axes
Axe Ventura arrives.
by Linda R. Benson
From the February, 2020 issue
Anthony Taylor is amused by the local folks who have wandered into the ground-floor space at Tower Plaza on Maynard with arms full of dirty clothes. "They'll figure it out. We're here to stay," says Taylor, thirty-three, one of three partners in Axe Ventura, the new axe-wielding sports bar occupying the former home of Gold Bond Cleaners.
"We wanted to be in the downtown area, and we spent six months actively looking at properties," says Taylor. "This one was right because of the layout and the space."
Axe throwing has come a long way from Paul Bunyan mythology. The trend was started by a Toronto bar owner in 2011, but it dates back to competitions among lumberjacks in the 1800s. Televised "woodsmen" contests, both professional and collegiate, have elevated its profile in urban areas. Axe-throwing struck a chord with millennials seeking new competitive thrills and skills, camaraderie, and stress relief.
Participants at Axe Ventura play in stalls, two per stall, with twelve targets mounted on the walls. An axe-master monitors each pair of stalls, gives coaching on types of throws, and sets up tournaments. Participants throw at two targets at the same time when the axe-master calls.
Like Axe Ventura, these indoor axe ranges often feature clever names like Axes to Grind, Kick Axe, or Bury the Hatchet. They have been proliferating in downtowns and college towns, including in the Detroit area.
Taylor got hooked last January when he and his girlfriend, Shannon Kozyra, stopped at an axe-throwing bar in Louisville on a drive back from Florida. "We loved it and then realized that the closest one here was in Novi," he says.
Players must be eighteen or older and sign waivers to participate. The partners insist that the sport is carefully regulated, axe-masters are well trained, and accidents and injuries are rare.
Betting on a long future for the sport, the partners signed a five-year lease with Gold Bond owner John Splitt.
Gold Bond had been on Maynard for sixty years
and was much admired for its expertise. But Splitt says the business took three major hits in the last dozen years: the loss of executive clients when Pfizer left town; more casual dress codes at newer companies; and fewer people smoking, which made dry cleaning less necessary.
Splitt and his wife owned the space--they bought all three Tower Plaza storefronts when the building went condo--so they went looking for a tenant.
"I knew nothing about axe throwing, but it is a real business" says Splitt, a member of the Downtown Development Authority for twelve years.
"Downtowns in general are becoming entertainment centers," he adds.
A limited schedule, Thursdays through Sundays, enables each partner to pursue other interests. For now, Kozyra is a special education teacher in Grand Haven. Taylor, who spent nine years in the Coast Guard fighting terrorism and narcotics smuggling in Bahrain, Florida, and California, is a U-M junior majoring in kinesiology. Conor Duggan served in the Air Force for five years in technical support and is now studying economics. They are affiliated with the U-M chapter of Student Veterans of America and count a number of SVA members among their fifteen employees.
The partners are awaiting a liquor license but do not plan to serve food. They did extensive remodeling, using unfinished wood beams and exposed brick and concrete, to achieve the rough-hewn look associated with the sport. "Minimalism is part of its appeal," says Taylor.
Axe Ventura, 332 Maynard. (734) 780-7248. Thurs.-Fri. 4-11 p.m., Sat. noon-11 p.m., Sun. noon-8 p.m. Closed Mon.-Wed. axeventura.com.
[Originally published in February, 2020.]
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