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Business brings pay-what-you-can model to mini golf

Newly launched Play it Forward Funland at Boulevard Lake putting a twist on a familiar game with suggested pricing.

THUNDER BAY – The new owner of the mini golf course at Boulevard Lake is offering a familiar product with a socially conscious twist.

Connor Gravelle, who took over the establishment in early May, relaunched earlier this week under the Play it Forward Funland banner, offering a pay-what-you-can model.

He’s inviting those who might have trouble affording the suggested price to visit outside of the hours of 3 to 7 p.m. and pay whatever they're able to.

“Thunder Bay definitely has a large low-income population, people who struggle with meeting basic needs,” he said. “No child should ever have to not have fun because of that. I really wanted to just include everyone.”

It’s not the only new feature visitors will notice – Gravelle has put in work to refurbish the aging amenity, and will rent lawn games and bicycles, also on the pay-what-you-can model.

It’s a concept that’s been used around the world, but he said it could be new to some.

He was inspired to pursue the idea after reading an article about a pay-what-you-can café in California.

“There’s pros and cons to it, it’s not going to work for every business,” he said. “People have been offering donations, they love the concept. I don’t know that it will work, but I’m confident.”

That may come down to a numbers game – typically, businesses using the model tend to average less revenue per ticket, but higher volumes of customers, Gravelle said.

With Boulevard Lake experiencing a spike in traffic during the pandemic, he’s hopeful there could be a larger-than-usual audience in the course’s first year.

“I think business levels will be great for us,” he said. “Everyone’s doing things outside, and the cool thing is that it’s also new people – people who haven’t typically spent much time outdoors, now they’re going out, they’re trying different things.”

Those who can afford to are also encouraged to chip in a bit more than the suggested price, supporting the ability to provide discounted rates for others.

Play it Forward will also offer bike rentals by partnering with a local entrepreneur. This summer will serve as a trial, with two road bikes and two mountain bikes available.

Along with lawn games like bocce ball and croquet, the bikes will be available for hourly or daily rentals, also on the suggested price model.

Lawn games can also be rented by the week, for those who want to bring them home or to camp.

Under current provincial COVID-19 restrictions, parties are limited to five people on the course. Customers are not required to wear masks, but staff are.

The space allows for distancing, said Gravelle, and groups are being spaced out by at least one hole to support that. Equipment like clubs and balls are also sanitized between uses.

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