No sitting tight for 2 owners

Chris Burns shows off the new multi-level interactive Laser Tag arena at Bananas that opened Feb. 15. Burns said that the play space in the arena was nearly doubled from 3,500 fett to almost 7,000 square feet. Among the new arena’s features are a two-story tree and a wrecked aircraft.

Banana’s co-owner Chris Burns stands at the base of a two-story tree in the newly renovated Lasesr Tag arena. Burns said that, by adding a second story to the arena, the play space has nearly doubled from 3,500 square feet to almost 7,000 square feet. The new “Mission to Bantu” theme adds a different ambiance, also.

Chris Burns just sank $100,000 into renovating the laser-tag area of Bananas Fun Park.

George Taber in recent months spent about a half-million dollars buying adjacent property and expanding and renovating Taber Auto Body’s building.

As the recession lingers in the Grand Valley and leads many a small business owner to make cuts, spend less and hope to survive until better days return, Burns and Taber have embraced an old business adage: You have to spend money to make money.

“I honestly believe that,” Burns said.

He owns Bananas with his wife, Heather, and the two consistently have demonstrated their willingness to invest in their park at 2469 Riverside Parkway. Bananas will mark eight years in business in May. They added a 3,500-square-foot room for laser tag a year into Bananas’ existence. They have 6 1/2 acres of land and expanded their go-kart tracks, creating one for younger children and one for the big kids, which include plenty of adults.

Two years ago they added the Special Event Pavilion, which caters to small children most days with an inflatable play land that features five different Bump N Jump offerings of varying sizes. The pavilion also is available for rent for group gatherings such as birthday parties and office parties, and Burns said it draws 400 to 600 teens every other Friday night for Teen Bash, which provides music, dancing and special rates on games.

The latest investment is the addition of a second level to the laser-tag area, essentially doubling the usable space and places to run, hide and shoot to almost 7,000 square feet.

That construction, plus the vibrant painting of new murals that stand out under the black lights, was completed Feb. 16, allowing Bananas to resume offering laser tag last weekend.

Burns said he was out of town during the week leading up to the reopening, and upon his return employees told him the customer reaction was: “Wow! That is cool.”

Helping the Burnses feel safe to invest is the fact Bananas is coming off its busiest year ever in terms of total dollar volume, surpassing the previous high set in 2008.

Business leveled off in 2009, then picked up in 2010 and 2011. Aside from that hiccup, Bananas’ history has been one of annual growth, perhaps even helped by the recession, with families forsaking travel to find fun things to do closer to home. Bananas Fun Park, Burns said, is family-centered entertainment.

“We continue to get busier by about 15 percent every year,” he said.

Part of his investment is in people. He said he added 15 part-time jobs last year, and he expects to add more this year.

Burns acknowledges Bananas is the only business of its type in the area, but lack of competition hasn’t led to complacency. Burns said he needs to keep things fresh to keep the business vibrant.

“I don’t want people to get bored,” he said. “You have to keep updating stuff. We keep getting better at what we’re doing and adding and keeping up to date.”

Taber approaches his investment in Taber Auto Body Paint & Frame, 939 South Ave., from a different perspective. The better part of the past two years have been “horrible,” he said, acknowledging business dropped 50 to 60 percent before picking up in the past six to eight months.

Rather than balk at spending during tough times, he matter-of-factly said, “You can’t sit on your thumbs.”

Believing customer service helped build his customer base, Taber’s investment has that in mind in addition to offering more services.

The recent business uptick coincided with Taber’s purchasing of a building immediately to the west of his shop and buying the fenced-in land to the west of that. Those moves vastly increased his space for storing and parking vehicles.

Taber bought the building behind Taber Auto Body and added on a 5,000-square-foot paint shop. He added a bay for doing estimates, a customer service move “just to get people out of the elements.”

He also had his customers in mind with the remodeling of the office area, which included the customer waiting area.

Meanwhile, he increased staffing by four employees.

When everything is finished, he will be able to handle more volume, providing what Taber always has provided, plus the new business he hopes to draw by being able to work on larger vehicles, such as commercial trucks, recreational vehicles and motor homes.

All of the investment, he said, is a matter of believing in Grand Junction and believing the recession has to let up at some point.

“We’re gambling on our area,” Taber said. “You can’t give up. Times are still tough. You have to keep going forward.”


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