Stop playin’ those Mind Games
Game over. After its owner fought hard with the city to open his upscale video game parlor in downtown Chico, Mind Games closed June 4 with barely a whimper. It was open just four months.

Robert Feder had visions of a place where the community’s youths could gather and stay out of trouble while playing the latest video games on big screens, enjoying table games, watching DVDs or having a snack.

Feder, who denied the shop was in financial trouble as late as June 3, said the next day that “the numbers just didn’t crunch.” The business cost him twice what he expected it would to open, and he would need a lot more capital to keep it going through the summer.

“I think it’s a great idea. I don’t know why it didn’t get the traffic I thought,” he said, as the store was being cleared out.

Bob Malowney, the owner of Bird In Hand, last winter had unsuccessfully appealed Feder’s permit to the Planning Commission, worried that an entertainment center downtown would make one less space where a retail store or restaurant could set up shop.

Upon hearing of the closure, Malowney said, “I feel sorry for any business that goes into business and doesn’t make it.” He said the vacancy at Main and Second streets forms an opportunity for a business that he believes would better complement other downtown stores and draw shoppers.

One former Mind Games employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it took Feder a while to admit the business was going under. “It’s a great place; it’s what Chico needs,” said the employee, who believes a “downtown clique” discouraged people from patronizing the game center.

Yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater
Potential crisis was averted on May 31 after the Chico Fire Department reported to a call made by an employee of the Blue Room Theatre who had seen smoke billowing from an ages-old air conditioning unit.

Although no fire was found, if the event had escalated it could have led to a large-scale structure fire in one of Chico’s most historic downtown buildings, which also houses Collier Hardware.

Jeremy Votava, technical director at the theater, and his colleague, Artistic Director Joe Hilsee, were at the Blue Room late Friday night returning set pieces. Votava smelled smoke when he got to the second floor of the building.

They quickly called 9-1-1 and five Chico fire engines responded, cutting off traffic and creating quite a gathering of concerned bystanders.

The fire department speculates that the smoke came from the burnt-out motor of the air conditioning unit, which Votava says hasn’t been run in at least the three or four years he has been working at the theater.

“We’re just lucky,” said Votava. “Typically on a Friday night we’d be getting out of a show. … This could have turned into something much worse.”

Lights, camera: arts academy!
Just as arts programs around the country are being eliminated from schools’ curricula, Chico High School was recently awarded a state grant that will allow for $235,000 to be spent toward initiating an arts academy at the school.

Stephanie Starmer, an English and drama teacher at Chico High, reports that the academy will be focused around musical theater, since the rising interest from students in that area is what spawned the idea of such a program.

Starmer, along with Lyn Bankhead of the Choral Music Department, have been predominantly responsible for courting the California Department of Education during the grant writing and interview process. They also will head up the first classes, which they hope can begin as early as the 2003-2004 school year.

During the next year, Chico High will receive the first $35,000 to be spent on developing a curriculum that suits the needs of the school and the students. The school will collaborate with Chico State University.

"One of the things the state recognizes is that these career pathway programs work better for the students. When you get them involved in things they like to do, they will succeed," Starmer said. "We’re pretty excited about this, and the kids are, too."