WILKES-BARRE — Feeling adventurous? Looking for something a little outside the ‘norm’ for a night out? A birthday party? A new way to exercise? There’s always rock climbing in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
Chäkstone Indoor Climbing Gym on South Main Street, to be exact, offers over 4,000 square feet of space, complete with different types of climbing for all skill levels — even true beginners — with training areas, seating, snacks, gear, and apparel, all inside an easily accessible, walkable space.
Owner James Barrett, 31, originally of Forty-Fort and now residing in Dallas, put in an immense amount of work, on top of a full-time job as a residential appraiser, when he took the place over in 2020.
“The previous owner, Mike Miscavage (who owns neighboring Top of the Slope) … I think they opened in ’99 or 2000. So, he owned it for about 19 or 20 years. I worked there in my early 20s. I knew Mike. I would go to the gym and that’s where I started climbing,” Barrett explained, never knowing at the time he’d one day be the owner. “Climbing took me all over the world and I’ve climbed everywhere. Lived in different states; West Virginia, Colorado, basically for climbing. So, that’s where it all started for me.”
After Barrett finished his studies at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, he started a business called Chäkstone Skinworks with a friend who also worked at the climbing gym, selling specialized hand chalk for climbers.
As the years rolled on, and eventually March of 2020 came around, the gym had to close for an extended period.
“And everyone thought that they were closed for good. He (Miscavage) reached out and asked if I had any interest in taking it over and purchasing it and I said ‘absolutely.’” Barrett explained, bringing his climbing journey full circle back to where it began.
“And I think that the climbing community was pretty excited, too, because that’s the only climbing gym in Luzerne County,” Barrett said.
So, he took over in August of 2020, and reopened officially on Dec. 5, although not without a little elbow grease and a new marketing plan first, and just a touch of apprehension taking over a business in the middle of an uncertain time. Though he explained that given his history with the place and the effort he knew the previous owner put into it, it made the decision to buy it much easier.
Barrett established a social media presence for the business and marketed through those channels, as well as tried and true word of mouth and reached out to local media channels as well. “Anyone who I could to just get the word out there,” he said.
After his day job every day, Barrett would get to work on the gym, doing the aforementioned marketing as well as some good old fashioned manual labor, overhauling the lobby space entirely, creating a welcoming atmosphere the was clean and presentable, redid some flooring, painting and the like. Barrett estimated he did about 80% of the work himself. “After work every single day, I would just go there and do that for four months,” he said.
“I mean, I was worried for sure. And it was totally uncertain how I was going to do. I thought putting in the effort, you know, giving it a face-lift and marketing would do it. And it did. I mean, that’s exactly what happened. And people were very excited that I was open,” Barrett said of the endeavor. “Climbers and families were excited to do things outside of their home, to get out of the house. I’m super glad I did it,” he said.
In the time since, things have been “steady” as Barrett put it, with folks always excited to come check the gym and try something new.
The facility offers separate areas for bouldering, top rope and lead climbing, as well as three TRUBLUE auto-belays, which allow the climber to independently lower themselves after reaching a peak or high point on the wall. There’s also the ability to go solo, bring a friend, or a group, allowing for a unique birthday party experience, or to just get a group of friends together for a different sort of hangout.
There’s also options for day passes, one, three, six month or annual memberships and a punch card reward system.
“I think it’s a great activity for anyone looking to try something new, maybe for some people to get outside their comfort zone … I mean anyone who’s ever thought about trying it, I think they should absolutely give it a shot at least once. And anyone with a family, with kids, kids absolutely love it,” Barrett said, also mentioning that Chäkstone is home to a kids team — an eight week program that runs four times a year.
And while Chäkstone in Wilkes-Barre will remain to be the only gym of its kind in Luzerne County, Barrett is currently working on expanding, with plans to offer the experience to Lackawanna residents with a new gym in Scranton.
To keep up with Chäkstone Indoor Climbing for the latest offers, news, and updates on the new location, be sure to follow Chäkstone on Facebook @ Chäkstone Indoor Climbing or head to the website, www.chakstonegym.biz. Inquiries about pricing, services, and especially the upcoming new Scranton location can be directed via email to [email protected] or by calling the Wilkes-Barre location at 570-824-7633.