ATLANTIC CITY - On the ocean end of The Pier Shops at Caesars for the past year, visitors have been able to follow the colorful computerized fountain display with a colorful game of miniature GlowGolf.
Spread across storefronts on both sides of the second level, GlowGolf challenges players to complete 27 holes on a course fluorescing brightly under black light bulbs.
Co-manager Sean Tomlinson, of Absecon, loves the busy summer work of facilitating fun and giving out glow sticks.
"I like to make sure every kid leaves happy," said Tomlinson, 24, who relishes the interaction with people after previously working in the somber office supply part of retail.
GlowGolf also has a Laser Maze, a large enclosed and foggy room that players try to cross and return without interrupting numerous laser beams, getting a score for time taken and beams avoided.
At the Jersey Shore, glow-in-the-dark miniature golf seems like a typical seasonal business catering mainly to tourists - but it actually represents a new business model, a twist on the pop-up stores that appear seasonally in malls.
Just as golfers putt the ball into the hole, Wichita, Kan.-based GlowGolf puts its attractions into holes in malls - choice spaces available temporarily at a discount until the mall finds a retailer to lease the location.
Jeff Bennett, chief operating officer of Opry Glowgolf LLC (named for the firm's first location in Tennessee), said the decade-old business has seen "exceptional growth" the past five years, a period when the weak economy created openings in many U.S. malls.
"We've probably opened half of our 30 stores in the last five years," Bennett said.
GlowGolf operations are designed to be very mobile, able to move to a better opportunity and be up and running in two weeks, he said.
"That helps keep the cost of space down. Frankly, the only way we could do this is by having better terms, so we look for those opportunities," he said.
Malls operators like GlowGolf because it keeps a space active without competing with existing retailers and gives customers another reason to stop by the mall. Bennett said the firm has good relations with major mall owners, who can call when they have a gap in their lineup they would like to temporarily fill.
The Pier Shops at Caesars, a four-level luxury shopping mall jutting out over the Atlantic Ocean, has struggled along with the city's casino industry during the economic downturn. That made space for GlowGolf in an ideal market for its entertainments.
"Atlantic City has been wonderful for us, such a high tourism area gaining new folks every week, so we're not depending on the same guests every day," Bennett said.
Tomlinson said lots of people come in off the beach and play, and the fountain is Old Faithful to this GlowGolf location.
"That water show plays every hour, and we get a rush of people after the show. That's a big help," he said.
In the winter, though, business slows and it gets boring. Tomlinson has urged the company to consider a solution: follow the people with this or open an additional GlowGolf.
"I would personally like to put one in Mays Landing and mentioned it to Jeff," he said. "I have a feeling that if I had one in the Hamilton Mall, it would get year-round business."
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