Whirlie’s World to close its doors
MIDDLEBURY — Owners of the “Whirlie’s World” indoor recreation center at 1232 Exchange St. in Middlebury will be closing the business this spring, citing financial reasons.
“It’s terrible,” Peter “Nerf” Neff said of the impending demise of Whirlie’s World, which since 2011 has offered interactive video games, laser tag, bounce houses, arcade activities and snacks for kids and families.
“It breaks my heart.”
Neff, his wife Naomi and several of their children have been the force behind a business they hoped would attract a parade of customers on weekends and after school hours. Whirlie’s World initially lived up to the Neffs’ collective vision, but customer flow has been declining during the past two years.
Neff on Monday cited uncooperative weather and competition from Chittenden County recreation centers as two major reasons for flagging revenues at Whirlie’s World. He explained that rain and cold, snow-free days tend to draw people to indoor recreation centers — and there hasn’t been enough of that kind of weather to breathe life into the business. And Neff cited a variety of new recreation options that have attracted folks to the Burlington area, including go-carts, climbing walls, trampolines and an assortment of electronic virtual sports, including soccer and golf.
Business tends to pick up for indoor recreation centers during the fall and into the winter, Neff noted.
“That hasn’t happened this year,” he lamented. “Last summer was our worst ever; there was no rain to drive them in.”
The Neffs put Whirlie’s World up for sale last year, hoping someone with more capital and new ideas could take over the business and keep it at the same location. But the only offer they have received thus far is from a person who simply wants to buy some of the games.
According to their lease, the Neffs must vacate the property near the north end of Exchange Street by the end of May. In the meantime, the business will maintain its usual hours of Thursdays, 10 a.m. to noon (for toddlers); Thursdays and Fridays, 3-6 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.; and a Friday or Saturday evening, two times per month, from 6-9 p.m.
If no one emerges to buy Whirlie’s World, the Neffs will sell their inventory bit by bit. Games, bounce houses, kitchen appliances, tables, cash registers — all of it will be placed on the market.
“It looks like we are going to have to piece the stuff out,” Neff said. “We had hoped for a turnkey transaction.”
Whirlie’s World has had an impact on the community during its relatively short run — and not only for the fun it provides.
It has offered part-time jobs to many area high school students.
The Neffs have been generous in handing out gift certificates to charitable causes and local groups, such as the Boy Scouts.
“We have never said ‘no,’” Neff said of the requests for help.
Parents have felt comfortable dropping off their children for a few hours of fun, knowing that Neff and his staff are responsible, courteous and conscientious. Neff is well-known in Addison County as a popular, longtime DJ and as the former groundskeeper at Middlebury Union Middle School.
Neff is still hoping for a Whirlie’s World buyer to step forward.
“We’re open to any and all possibilities,” Neff said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].