Business reporter for The Billings Gazette.

Taj Mukadam

Taj Mukadam opened Billings Escape Room in March in Billings.

The front door leading into the Billings Escape Room is dark, and so is the lobby. And it’s all by design, according to founder Taj Mukadam.

“We really want to put somebody into the experience when they come through the door,” Mukadam, 32, said inside the space at 2593 Overland Ave.

That experience is a prison escape from a dark cell, as described by an ominous narrator setting the scene in a video created by Mukadam. Participants then have 60 minutes to figure out a series of puzzles and clues to escape Whispering Pines prison camp.

It’s a growing concept aimed at families, groups of friends and tourists, he said.

“We want to be a destination for anybody and everybody,” he said.

The Billings Escape Room launched last month and now is discounted at $15 per person. A grand opening is scheduled May 5, and the price will change to $19.

Mukadam said he was inspired by a visit to Billings’ first escape room, The Grand Escape Room at 801 14th St. W. Billings Senior High School student Kyle Eaton opened that business two summers ago, and it has since grown to three rooms.

Mukadam then traveled to other rooms in bigger cities, including Las Vegas and Phoenix, to better develop his concept. He has space for three rooms, which he expects to change out roughly every six months.

Mukadam said he’s in the entertainment business, with competition ranging from movie theaters, concerts and other events. From that perspective, he and The Grand Escape Room is in the same boat, Mudakam said.

“If anything, the escape room market is new. I’d say we’ll probably play off of each other,” he said.

Mukadam and a silent partner invested about $30,000 to start the business. Mukadam, a Richmond, Va., native with a construction background, and his team did all the inside building themselves.

The Billings Escape Room is open by appointment. Call 406-534-9155 or visit www.billingsescaperoom.com for more information.

Billings pet store expanding

The owners of Lovable Pets are opening a second store on Billings West End this summer.

The pet boutique will expand into the Sapphire Plaza, a new strip mall in the Montana Sapphire subdivision across the street from Scheels.

The new store will have a retail outlet and a self-serve pet wash station with three bays, the owners wrote on their Facebook page.

Lovable Pets currently operates at 1313 Grand Ave. suite 6.

Big bucks for old gun

An artifact from the Battle of the Little Big Horn made an East Coast seller a tidy sum during a recent auction.

The last remaining complete Colt Single Action Army pistol recently sold for $460,000 at auction in Fairfield, Maine. The auction was held by James D. Julia, a Maine-based firm.

The pistol was positively proven to have been used by a soldier serving under Gen. George Armstrong Custer in 1876 at the battle that took place near present-day Hardin.

The pistol's value was listed between $175,000 and $275,000 in the auction catalog, but went much higher, according to the auctioneer.

Haikus from the valley

Dollars spent online

are dollars not spent inside stores.

Retail’s big struggle

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