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Duluth Rage Room offers safe place for releasing emotions

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Healthy Expression Rage Room co-owner Karrie Maloney talks about the business in a room set up for birthday celebrations. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service2 / 5
Ashlee Maloney, 11, plays a virtual reality game at Healthy Expression Rage Room. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service3 / 5
Healthy Expression Rage Room co-owner Scott Maloney sweeps up the mess left after a client’s session. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service4 / 5
Shards of glass fly as Hilary Buckwalter Kesti smashes glasses, jars, a computer printer and other items at Healthy Expression Rage Room. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service5 / 5

DULUTH, Minn.—The sound of shattering glass and loud, continuous bangs are music to Karrie Maloney's ears.

"Hear that?" she said as a series of smashes emanated from behind closed doors. "I love that sound!"

Loud smashing is a typical sound at Healthy Expressions Rage Room, a new business co-owned by Nicholas Truman and Karrie and Scott Maloney. The business at 1324 E. Fourth St. allows people to express their pent-up emotions in a healthy and safe environment, and also serves as a party and play destination, with an arena for dodgeball and Nerf wars.

"We wanted to bring something that is not just for kids, but also not just for adults. It's something that can incorporate anyone, from families to college kids to the working professional," Karrie Maloney said.

The business opened its doors earlier this month.

A space to rage

The idea to open a "rage room" came to Truman a few years ago. He grew up in the country, where he helped disassemble equipment for recycling.

"So things like old equipment, you had to break up and the fastest way was by breaking it. You'd sit there and break stuff apart," Truman said. "Then when I moved north to Duluth, you really just don't get that type of freedom. When you feel the need to break things apart, people would get concerned about noise or just think that you're crazy."

By searching online, Truman found similar rage rooms advertised in larger cities. Inspired, he proposed the idea to the Maloneys. Truman is the general manager for the Maloneys' other business, Trinity Cleaning.

"It was kind of as a joke, but also kind of serious at the same time," Truman said. "But we thought about it for a couple of years and after a while, it just came together."

Here's how the Rage Room works: Individuals and two-person groups can purchase packages based on what they're looking to smash and how much time they want to do it.

Packages start with the "Quick, Healthy Expression" session at $25 for five minutes and 10 mixed, mostly glass items. The packages increase by the number of small, medium and large items and time.

The "Office Space" session is priced at $50 for 30 minutes with 12 small, 10 medium and two large items, including one printer.

On Jan. 3, it was the "Office Space" package on which yoga instructor and customer Hilary Buckwalter Kesti chose to unleash her pent-up stress.

"I drove by last week and I saw the sign and I was curious," she said. "I have a lot of stressful things going on in my life right now that are crisis-level. So I Googled it yesterday and I thought, I need to go there and break some stuff."

Before Buckwalter Kesti was allowed into the Rage Room, she first had to get fully dressed in the standard protective equipment. To prevent glass injuries, all Rage Room customers must wear coveralls, a chest plate, gloves and a paintball mask, and they must wear their own closed-toe shoes.

Customers must use equipment provided by the company — it isn't "bring-your-own-bat" — and all participants must sign a waiver before entering the room.

"But we have bats, golf clubs, whatever you need to bring destruction," Karrie Maloney said.

Buckwalter Kesti was most looking forward to breaking "everything."

"I've never done anything like this before. But I have had a secret fantasy for 10 years to take a sledgehammer to an old car as a way to relieve some stress," she said. "I'm a yoga teacher, so I spend a lot of time meditating and going 'la, la, la' and I feel like that doesn't really get to everything that needs attention."

Once she was geared up, Buckwalter Kesti was brought back to the "Office Space" room. The room is completely enclosed, with netting above to keep glass pieces in the space. There's a phone dock in the corner for users to set up their own camera phones to either livestream their session or record it for their own viewing. Maloney plans to have in-house streaming cameras on the break room screens that will show activity in the rooms.

Buckwalter Kesti smashed items for about 10 minutes.

"That was awesome," she said as she exited the room. "I had fun with the printer. It was tough. But it felt good to go after it. I feel better than I did. I will be back."

Healthy Expressions handles the cleanup and recycling of materials.

Gerald Henkel-Johnson, a licensed psychologist and chairman of the College of St. Scholastica's Psychology and Sociology Department, said this type of stress-management is "catharsis."

"It feels good in the short run ... but don't depend on it being therapeutic in the long-term," he said.

Henkel-Johnson cautioned that research shows it's not a replacement for professional help or something that will create lasting change.

More than a breaking zone

Although Truman thought of the Rage Room a couple of years ago, he and the Maloneys didn't believe it would be enough to open a space just to break things. Scott Maloney proposed adding the arena for dodgeball and Nerf gun fights.

"I think it fits with the theme and it makes it more of a place for the whole family," Scott said. "Plus, it's just fun."

Healthy Expressions also offers virtual reality experiences. The business's two VR systems, Oculus Rift and Vive, offer a chance to explore different worlds as well as educational experiences.

"One of the coolest things is being able to, like, stargaze and pull in the planets," Karrie said. "But then you can also walk through a haunted house, so it's up to you how intense you want it to be."

Another experience Healthy Expressions offers, with the same theme of the Rage Room, is "Trash the Dress." Customers can use paint and other means to destroy their old wedding dresses.

"I think that would be great if you're going through the divorce," Karrie said.

More information can be explored at healthyexpressionsrageroom.com.

Jana Hollingsworth of the News Tribune staff contributed to this report. This story originally appeared in the Weekly Observer, a weekly newspaper serving the neighborhoods of Duluth. For more information, go to duluthweeklyobserver.com.

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