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Anneslie resident opens a new climbing gym in White Marsh

Kristan Joice, owner of ClimbZone White Marsh

In the first of a series of occasional articles about new and interesting things that Towsonites are doing, here’s a Q&A with Kristan Joice of Anneslie, who recently opened a ClimbZone recreation center in White Marsh.

After being a stay-at-home mom for 12 years, Kristan Joice was ready to get back into the workforce and utilize her administrative and human-resources background. It was slow going, and then one day she was at her son’s football practice chatting with two other parents who were opening a ClimbZone in Laurel.

Joice started doing freelance work for them, then eventually became a manager.

ClimbZone White Marsh

When the New Zealand-based company started talking about opening its first franchise location, Joice joked that she’d be the first franchisee.

“And the next thing I knew, it was real,” she said. ClimbZone formally opened the day after Thanksgiving.

Because it was the first franchise location, she and the company were both starting from scratch — there was no “business in a box” for her to open. But on the plus side, she knew the business well after spending so much time at the Laurel location.

How did it feel to sign on the dotted line and become a business owner? 

Once I signed the document, it still didn’t seem really real. Even when I started putting the cash into it, it still didn’t seem real. When we started writing checks on the cash that we had contributed, and the funding from the financing went in, then it started to get really scary. I still feel like I can do this. I’m not scared. … Now it’s just mildly frustrating because I still have all these things to do.

Are your kids [Roland, 14, and Annabel, 12] into climbing? 

Yeah, they’re really into it. They’ve been bringing their friends in, and they want to have a sleepover one night, which we’ll probably do. I have a plan to hire Roland and some of his friends just to kind of help on the weekend with opening the harnesses, helping the party coordinators clean up their party spaces, stuff like that. Even [my husband] Joe goes climbing. 

Are your business partners [Mark Paliotta and Chris Brewster] involved in the day-to-day activities? 

To a certain extent. They’re sort of more the contracts and the business-y side of things, things that I don’t really do. They’ve owned many successful businesses, so they have that whole contracts side down and the financing side down and the taxes and IT things. … I’m learning. I definitely know a lot more than I did eight months ago.

What’s the best part of being your own boss? 

Nothing yet because I’ve been here everyday except for Thanksgiving! [laughing] And that was only because Joe would have gotten really pissed if I came in.

I do really feel a big sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. I think because I have been home for 12 years and it wasn’t like I wasn’t doing anything: I was volunteering and stuff like that, but those were other people’s instructions that I was following.

I think when all this started, I just thought, “You know what? I hope someday Annabel looks back and thinks ‘Wow, at 52, my mom started her own business.'” That has kind of been a big thing in my head. So it’s been a big source of pride. 

I have a big feeling of accomplishment when I see the pictures of what it looked like when we first showed up and what it looks like now — that feels really good. And because I know the business down in Laurel, I know that this will be a success.

What’s the worst part? 

The worst part about it is the frequency with which I second guess myself. Did I make the right decision? Did I hire the right employee? Yeah, the second guessing. It’s just unchartered territory.

Are the climbing walls interactive? 

I guess if by interactive you mean every time Joe and Roland climb the Lincoln Memorial they stick their fingers up his nostrils, I guess you could say that’s interactive. [laughing]

Our walls are not interactive yet — probably in another year so we might have some interactivity in the walls. But the details are really amazing and so that as you’re climbing — and even if you climb the same wall multiple times — you can kind of think “Oh, I didn’t notice that before.” 

It’s also interactive with the other climbers because you don’t have somebody on the ground holding your rope. You can actually climb next to your friends, you can race your friends on the speedwall with a timer, you can climb next to your kid. You can help your kid as you climb up with them, to help them with their confidence as opposed to standing down on the ground yelling up at them: “Put your right foot there!” So you are really interactive with the other climbers around you.

[ClimbZone is different from many traditional climbing gyms in that it has a hydraulic auto-belay system, meaning climbers don’t need a second person to spot them and they can climb and descend unassisted.]

You sell light snacks and will be selling coffee, but you also allow outside food here. Why? 

We don’t sell food because then I would have to keep an inventory and that’s a whole other permitting process. And by allowing people to bring in outside food we can accommodate anybody whether they have dietary restrictions due to religion or allergies or preference of what they eat.

I think it makes it more of a community. I mean, you’re here for three hours. I don’t want to nickel and dime you on bad food. If you want to bring a big bag of celery with you, you shouldn’t have to hide it in your purse. And I sell water, but you can bring your own water. We have a water-bottle filler on the water fountain.

What else should we know? 

It’s just it’s so different from anything you’ve ever done. I mean, yes, you’ve probably climbed, yes, you’ve been to a family recreation center. But I think just the atmosphere here is hopefully different and the activity is different. And the walls are amazingly gorgeous.

-Kris Henry,
The Towson Flyer


ClimbZone is now open:
climbzone.us/white-marsh
 410-406-9891
1412 Tangier Drive, Suite B, Middle River, MD 21220


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Cindy Freeman

The place looks amazing. Sounds like fun. Good luck.