Pictured above left, The Alley owner Bethanne Mashburn (center) welcomes Christie Knowles (left) and Lesa Osborn (right) for a special VIP Night at the venue inside the Gadsden Mall.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Bethanne Mashburn is on a roll.
After months of excitement and effort, her highly-anticipated entertainment venue will welcome visitors to explore the magic that awaits just beyond its doors. Mashburn’s latest creative venture, The Alley, opens November 28, inviting families and friends to experience an incredible oasis in the heart of Gadsden.
Born and raised in Etowah County, Mashburn spread her wings following high school, experiencing life in states like Utah and Idaho. Originally a secondary education history major, Mashburn taught school in China before returning to her roots to raise her family. It was not until after her own children began school that she heard a calling in a different direction.
Entrepreneurship is in Mashburn’s DNA. She represents the third generation of an extraordinary legacy that began with her grandfather, Jim Browning, who designed, built and operated a tool and dye factory during the 1980s. Mashburn’s father, Dan Browning, followed in his father’s footsteps and developed his own businesses throughout the Gadsden area.
In 2013, the original building that sparked decades of community contribution and leadership resurfaced in Mashburn’s life. After her father purchased the sentimental factory located at 100 Thomas Drive and welcomed the building back into the family, Mashburn discovered the perfect method to repurpose such an instrumental location into a place that continued to serve its community’s needs. She summoned her ancestral business-minded nature and embarked on a new adventure.
“It just kind of hit me that I wanted to do something in the entertainment business,” said Mashburn. “I grew up here and remember really wanting there to be more to do in this town.”
Mashburn unearthed her answer in trampoline parks, an entertainment venue that her father discovered in its early stages of development. Although Mashburn always longed to partake in her family’s talent for business ownership, she finally found her niche when she transformed her grandfather’s building into a space enriched with fun and created with care. After much effort, Mashburn introduced a new opportunity to her community, appropriately named The Factory.
While Jim and Dan crafted businesses centered around metal fabrication and construction – all necessary and beneficial staples for the community – Mashburn’s passion resides with ministering to the residents as individuals. Through The Factory, Mashburn provides families with an experience that nurtures their emotional needs, easing the sense of worry and stress that often clouds people’s joy.
“I love Etowah County, but I felt like there was a need for fun in this community,” said Mashburn. “[Fun] is a need. I feel like everybody that I pass is so stressed out. We have bills to pay and all this in the news going on that we worry about. I feel like we need to be able to put all those worries aside and just relax and play with our friends and family. It’s important.”
From The Factory’s initial opening, Mashburn’s plan included expansion. Her inventive nature and continual pursuit for growth results in businesses that offer guests new opportunities with each visit and never slip into stagnancy. Before long, the city of Gulf Shores contacted Mashburn about developing a partnership with her business to bring The Factory’s flourishing concept to South Alabama.
“I love coming to work every day,” said Mashburn. “I love that I can use my imagination and dream something up, create it and see people enjoy it. To me, there is nothing better than watching a kid with their parent walk in for the first time, and the look in that kid’s eyes when he sees the trampoline room for the first time. That anticipation makes everything worthwhile that I’ve been through. I just absolutely love seeing somebody else experience something that I’ve dreamed.”
With the success of multiple locations and a desire to continue uplifting her community, Mashburn broached the possibility of a new entertainment venue – The Alley. Mashburn noted that while she loves The Factory and all it offers, a large portion of Gadsden’s population cannot physically jump on trampolines. She also emphasized that although The Factory provides activities for adults, it centers around children and teenagers.
Mashburn recognized the importance of creating a space for young adults and adults as well as children and teenagers, and manifested the solution in The Alley. Located in the former Sears Department Store building in the Gadsden Mall, The Alley occupies 35,000 square feet of unprecedented entertainment, creating an unique experience unlike any other. As The Factory’s building represents a location filled with sentimental value, the mall does the same, evoking fond memories from Mashburn’s past.
“That’s what we did on the weekends,” said Mashburn. “We went and walked around the Gadsden Mall. It was kind of the center of our community. I’ve always loved our mall. There’s been some of the bigger stores leave, and I did not want to see our mall looking like it was going out of business. It’s perfect real estate. It’s right in the heart of our city. It was important to me to see that space filled.”
As visitors stride towards the towering building facades from the parking lot, they will enter a serene indoor park embellished with a colossal tree that outstretches its branches to the ceiling. Benched seating encircles the tree’s trunk, and bright pink cherry blossoms ordain its neighboring foliage. The park’s ample space heeds to grassy hills and hidden slides built into walls, providing guests with the perfect place to unwind and relax.
But the park is just the preface. Through two arched, ivy-covered brick tunnels, visitors walk into a world of possibility. As if stepping through the looking glass, guests emerge from the shadows into a universe that channels the energetic nightlife of cities like Tokyo, New York and Chicago. Black and multicolored lighting send shades of neon purple, pink, green and orange across sightlines, while popular music surges through ears. Weathered brick walls house graffiti artwork, with images bleeding through layers of paint to create the feel of multiple artists adopting the same canvas throughout time.
“Imagine the last big city you went to,” said Mashburn. “Maybe on your way somewhere, you’re walking down the street and you look down an alley. You see some really interesting things, and you just feel like you want to go explore. That’s what I’m trying to capture.”
An infectious curiosity compels guests to drift throughout the venue, absorbing the limitless options within their grasp. Numerous pristine bowling lanes occupy half a section of the building, paying homage to its name, theme and slogan “Keep on Rolling.” The illuminated arcade features a plethora of games, from classics like Skee-Ball and air hockey to film-inspired adventures like Jurassic Park and Stranger Things. That inspiring sense of exploration that drives The Alley filters into the arcade, which prompts visitors to explore games built into nooks and storefronts (designed to favor authentic downtown shops) to discover new amusements.
If all this sounds too good to comprehend, guests can embark on infinite adventures via virtual reality, yet another route visitors can travel at The Alley.
Working up an appetitive is inevitable with so many things to do at The Alley, and Mashburn ensured that all friends can leave with full stomachs to accompany their hearts. In a ‘broken down’ food truck, Local Joe’s caters mouthwatering street food and a hidden bar provides room for relaxation after bowling a perfect game.
Through The Factory and The Alley, Mashburn serves Etowah County and reminds residents of the importance preserving that childlike appreciation of interactive play and imagination. The Alley emerges as a community project, established through the collective efforts of local individuals and companies like Greer Building Contractors, architect Craig Lipscomb and artist Tanner Dixon that united their talents to unearth a treasure and shine a light on the place so many call home. Complaints about the mundane or lack of activities in Gadsden dwindle smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror as The Alley drives forward into a new future for the community, revealing the city’s true potential and inspiring others to do the same.
“I hope people love it,” said Mashburn. “It’s taken so long to build. I hope that it’s everything people are anticipating and more. I just really want it to be a place that people can feel comfortable – not feel rushed to come in and leave. I want it to be a central location for people to meet, hang out and explore. Even if they don’t bowl, I would want them to be inspired by the environment and atmosphere that they want to hang out there. I just hope that they come in and forget everything they were stressed out about that day, and enjoy the relationships they are strengthening with the people they came with.
“I hope I create a successful business that thrives. It’s scary to invest a lot of money and there’s a lot of naysayers out there, asking ‘Why would you do this in Gadsden?’ I hope I can prove them all wrong and show them that we will support business here. We can have anything those big cities have.”