Inflatable FunStuf to Do in Fitchburg
By Scott Shurtleff
FITCHBURG -- The name says it all. FunStuf opened its doors to the public Saturday and crowds bounced in from all over central Massachusetts to slide, hop and climb on the massive inflated structures of the indoor amusement park at 791 Water St. Sometimes, inflation is a good thing.
The nine colossal rubber attractions feature tunnels, ladders, orbs, slides and a slew of challenges for children from ages 2-17. All of the implements were custom designed by co-owner Ethan Deslauriers with two significant signature features; they fit into the 8,000-square-foot arena with plenty of space between and around them. And, they are decorated with two central themes; a camouflage room and a hazmat room.
Deslauriers and partner Francis Dower, long-time manager at the legendary Whalom Park, know as much about fun as they do about equipment. Formerly known as Fun Stuff, the company’s primary specialty is equipment rental for large-scale events and backyard festivals. After years in Lunenburg, they moved to Fitchburg with eyes on expanding the rental operations.
“The rental business is seasonal,” said Deslauriers. “From April through October we are very busy but had nothing during the off-season. So, we developed a business plan that would allow for year-round clientele.”
They signed a 10-year lease in March 2018 and in less than a year business was hopping.
“We’ve had to deal with nearly every board in town from City Council on down, to get this permitted,” said Dower. “The building was zoned ‘light industrial’ so we had to get that changed first. The city, at every step, has been extremely cooperative. They understand that a successful business is good for the neighborhood. And, by extension, good for the city. Even the mayor came out yesterday to check it out.”
The rental area is still as robust as ever, occupying an adjacent 3,000-square-foot space, where customers can rent, among other things, bouncy houses. The fluctuating roster of employees -- as many as 30 during peak season -- perform myriad tasks both in delivery and set-up of rental gear, and inside the new carnival.
Promoted mostly through sharing of the company’s Facebook page over the past months, the doors officially opened Saturday at 11 a.m. By 11:30, a line had formed at the check-in counter and children were weaving through slaloms and winding through serpentines. The highlight of the lobby area is a giant floor-piano that plays notes when stepped on. Check-in is quick and easy, providing each child with a plastic bracelet that allows for two hours of adventure.
Parents, too, find value in the enterprise. Friends Terry Panameno, of Gardner and Carly Gould, of Worcester, were among the first paying customers ($15 per child for two hours). “We wanted to get together and talk, while our children stay occupied,” said Gould.
“They can burn off a lot energy while having fun,” said Panameno. But the real critics that the owners needed to impress were the experts.
“I like that you can jump and bounce around,” said 8-year-old Gould. Sister Mary, 5, agrees. “I really like the slides.”
Two thumbs up, endorsements that should help keep the air in FunStuf, which does not serve food but allows for catered events such as birthday parties and other group outings in the large picnic area.
There are multiple steps to enjoying the carnival.
1.) Remove shoes.
2.) Enter the fun rooms.
“We were looking to create an ‘American Ninja Warrior’ type obstacle course, for kids,” said Dower. “This space had everything we needed but it was in pretty rough shape when we first acquired it.” He said that as a former flea market, the entire unit was littered with debris that had been abandoned. “We filled at least 10 full-size dumpsters with trash and hauled it away.”
That was after the long permitting process ended in October, which paved the way for the contractors to come in and modify the area. Pelletier Brothers Contracting of Leominster performed the lion’s share of the work. “They were excellent,” said Dower. They brought everything up to code and laid out the space according to our design.”
Saturday’s opening is a prelude to the formal ribbon-cutting, which Dower said will be later this month. He expects to host about 30,000 customers per year once word spreads. School vacations seem even more promising and the current weekend-only hours will be expanded to weekdays to accommodate youth groups and summer campers driven indoors due to inclement weather.