Billy Gilbert credits the Greeks and his grandparents who introduced him to the Greeks. His grandparents, Gilbert says, “worked from morning to night” everyday. Once his grandmother retired, she took a job hostessing at the Greek restaurant in the small town where he grew up for something to do. She then convinced the owners to hire the middle schooler. “Those guys were there day in and day out. It’s where I got a lot of my work ethic,” Gilbert recalled fondly.
Gilbert worked at the restaurant through high school. He remembers trying to call in sick. “My grandmother got on the phone and said you better get your butt in here right now! I got you this job! Of course I wasn’t really sick, you know,” Gilbert chuckles.
The owner of the newly opened Urban Air moved to Augusta, where it has been reported in the local press he was a partner in a Tidal Wave car wash, which he sold to invest in this new venture with a couple of partners, Eric Cowart and Ryan Vicars.
But take a closer look at his background, and it becomes clear he is a perfect fit for the indoor adventure park. As a boy, he was a lifeguard at the YMCA. When he got older, he spent years keeping beach visitors safe. “I did ocean rescue for eleven years, wave runner rescue,” Gilbert said. “I was always a mentor for younger people. I had lifeguards underneath me that I trained. I got ribbed by my buddies all the time.”
“The whole Baywatch thing…’Hey David, where’s Pam?”
He found he enjoyed the opportunity to teach teenagers the importance of work. And with lives in the balance, how to take the job seriously.
Gilbert met his wife in Charlotte and the couple moved to Virginia where he became an aquatics director, then head director of the local YMCA. “That’s being a part of the community right there. I would go into the grocery store and I couldn’t walk five feet without getting stopped!” Gilbert recalled.
“I loved what I did there.” Gilbert said. “I loved what I did. I hated to leave, I really did. But we were about to have our second child and I thought ‘ok, I can handle this with one child, I don’t know if I can do this with two.”
While his job was extremely fulfilling, “I just wasn’t getting paid enough. At the end of the day, you’re there for the community and for the kids,” Gilbert recalled.
His growing family led him to realize he couldn’t afford the position any longer. It was a difficult decision to leave, Gilbert said, but bigger opportunities soon presented themselves.
The family moved to Charleston, where Gilbert met Scott Blackstock, who was the founder and owner of Tidal Wave car washes. “He basically created the express car wash industry. He was a huge mentor to me. He was a driving force. I learned a lot from him and his ways,” Gilbert said.
With this background, one can see the natural progression to now owner of a business dedicated to family fun.
“I find myself doing the same here. It’s a little bit of a different ballgame, but the basics are the same,” Gilbert explained. “I’m always trying to let them understand how important their jobs are. Why they’re in their position. That’s always my goal.”
“I always want to help young people grow. Some of our Leads that we have here, they are younger adults. I’m giving them the opportunity to learn management skills – learn how to be in charge of a place.” Gilbert is proud to see the progression of his employees as they mature and grow and even move on in life. “If you want to leave, I’m never going to hold that against you. I’m always going to support your decision.”
“I always tell people if you come here and do a good job for me, you come here and work hard, I’ll write you a letter of recommendation anytime you need it.”
He and his partners recently opened Urban Air in the former HH Gregg on Robert C. Daniel Parkway in Augusta. “We’re in our fifth week right now of being open,” said General Manager Jordan Chambliss. “The weekends have been unbelievably busy from open to close. It’s been insane.”
Chambliss noted Gilbert is always moving. “I’m always walking laps here. I’m literally just making laps, making sure the employees are good, making sure they’re in their spots. If there are any weaknesses, if I see any, I try to fix it right then and there. That way they understand. If you let things go, they’re just going to get worse,” Gilbert says.
Opening during Covid did present some challenges the pair acknowledge. “Choosing such a large space has been a blessing. When they’re (customers) in here, it’s very open,” Gilbert explained. “You don’t feel like you’re right on top of other people. We are very happy we decided to go that route, because we had no idea, obviously, about Covid when we started doing this.”
“This space is so enormous,” Chambliss said. The staff is following the CDC, state and local guidelines, which include checking everyone who enters temperature and all staff wearing masks. The staff wipes down and cleans after every ride on the spin zone, the virtual reality headsets get wiped down after each use, dodgeballs and basketballs get wiped down, and so on.
Every thirty minutes, a certain song plays. “It’s the Cupid Shuffle, that’s the cleaning song. We know that’s when we stop and sanitize everything. We also have a sanitation leader,” Chambliss stated.
Now that they’ve been open a little over a month, they are beginning to be able to fine tune the business. At peak times, there are 35-40 staffers working.
“It was stressful at first because we didn’t know what to expect,” Gilbert admits. “We didn’t know how many people were actually going to show up. We were concerned, but we were hopeful and prepared.”
Show up they have. Customers are encouraged to go online and reserve their spot before visiting, as during peak times the line can wrap around the building.
“We’re getting our bearings now. Things are getting easier. At first it was tough scheduling all these people, knowing what we needed and when we needed it. Now we’re understanding it a little more,” Gilbert said.
As a part of that process, Chambliss has created a neurosensory play day, beginning next Monday. “I worked temporarily for Walton Options, and I was brought into a world that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I gained a huge amount of appreciation for all sorts of people and their particular challenges,” Chambliss shared.
That appreciation led her to create the opportunity to include kids (and adults) who otherwise would be too overwhelmed to be able to enjoy the adventure park.
“We’re going to do a neurosensory sensitive play day on Mondays from 3-8 PM, for kids with autism and epilepsy, during our normal hours. Typically, we have flashing lights that change colors, strobes and lots of loud noises and music. It’s a high energy place.”
Those sensitive to such things will be able to play in a much different environment. Urban Air will reduce the volume way down and keep the house lights up, cutting off the strobes and other flashing lights.
“We want to be as inclusive as possible,” Chambliss said. “We’ve gotten some really great responses on social media for the concept. I’m excited.”
Another special day is Thursdays. The park opens earlier, at 10 AM, as opposed to 3 PM to allow an opportunity for local homeschoolers to visit.
Friday mornings are reserved for the little ones five and under. “We do a jumparoo for little kids five and under from 10-12, so they have free run of the park without worrying about getting trampled by bigger kids,” Gilbert said.
“We don’t open everything for them. They aren’t tall enough to do everything anyway. They go on the soft play area where the slides are, and they can go up to the trampoline area. And we kind of let the mom’s and dad’s play in the Ninja Warrior course with them. There is usually a height requirement for the Ninja Warrior, but we allow it for them on Fridays.”
As one might expect, birthdays at Urban Air have been a big hit. “We have thirty birthday parties scheduled so far this week, and that number will grow,” Gilbert said.
The party rooms are large, and can be expanded with roll up garage doors for an additional fee.
Each room gets a hostess to help with all the details, and the reservation process is simple. Urban Air has a dedicated corporate hotline (800-960-4778) to inquire about reservation availability.
You will also receive a follow up call from the local staff to insure everything is ready for your big day. If customers don’t wish to have a room, there are large tables available for parties as well, which share a hostess.
“On Friday nights we offer glow parties,” Chambliss said.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since opening?
Gilbert didn’t miss a beat. “We learned real quick not to touch the shoulder of teenage girls battling zombies in the VR area. It’s so realistic-when you’re in there, the zombies are right on your back.”
“So one of the operators, one of my employees, touched a girl’s shoulder to tell her, hey, you’re screaming pretty loud. Well, she slings the gun across the floor – she was so scared. Those (guns) are not cheap,” Gilbert laughed. “We learned to not tap anyone on the shoulder…just talk to them loudly.”
Urban Air Augusta
207 Robert C Daniel Parkway
Augusta, GA 30909
Book Birthday Parties
Sat: 10 AM to 10
Sun: Noon to 8
Mon: 3 PM to 8
Tue: 3 PM to 8
Wed: 3 PM to 8
Thurs: 10 AM to 8
Fri: 10-Noon (aged 5& under) Noon to 10 PM Everyone