This column is a follow-up to a previous article I wrote about teenagers not having much to do here in the Valley. I decided to interview someone in the community who understands this issue — having children of his own who it directly affects — and has decided to do something about it.
This person is Jamie Baker, owner of Space VR in Solvang, a virtual reality arcade.
Not only is Space VR already offering recreational activities to children and teenagers in the Valley, but Baker also has been thinking about another venture that will offer even more for all ages.
To begin, I was curious about what made Baker decide to start Space VR and what his experience has been while operating it.
He opened Space VR four years ago for the same reasons I wrote about in my previous column.
“We felt a void in fun/safe places for kids to simply hang out,” he told me.
Baker first came to Solvang in 1979. He wasn’t a parent at the time but felt like it was a wonderful place to be a kid. So, he moved his family to Solvang 12 years ago.
“I’m a parent of three kids, and I still think it’s a great place to raise a family, but most of the activities being offered are for the 21-and-above crowd,” he said. “Sure, there are recreational activities and plenty of sports and agricultural opportunities for teens, but those aren’t my kids’ interests. I have the Shakespeare, Dr. Who, Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter gamer kids.”
The spark that ignited the idea and passion for opening up Space VR happened approximately five years ago when he walked into a virtual reality arcade with his son.
“My son tried on the headset and it was as if Willy Wonka had gone to Disneyland,” Baker explained. “His imagination was flowing, he was expressing ideas, providing constructive criticism to the owner. What I saw was his lightbulb go on. I witness him discovering a passion. Those are great moments.”
Baker said that during the first two years after launching Space VR in Solvang, it had been only virtual reality place between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“So we had people from as south as Camarillo and north to Salinas, who would drive and plan their day in Solvang based on coming to Space VR,” he said. “And our rate of return customers is very high. We have had some people who have made over 30 reservations in the four years we’ve been open.”
Space VR had been planning to “knock down some walls and remove the ceiling and put in a 220-seat theater that could showcase film, live theater, presentations that incorporated VR/AR technology and lecture forums,” but unfortunately, the pandemic posed a roadblock in getting that project started, Baker explained.
And yet again, plans have changed.
“We are going to be more like an arthouse movie theater, and Space VR will just be called SPACE,” he said, noting that the business is named with an acronym in mind: “S” for Science, “P” for Performance, “A” for Art, “C” for Culture and “E” for Education, all of which they will try to honor.
“Our theater will be small — 65, with the potential to expand to 100 seats,” Baker said.
The seats, he explained, will be actual airplane seats that have trays in the armrest that fold out, and wireless headsets will be used for audio. Additionally, meals will be available that complement the film. “For example, if we show ‘The Year of Living Dangerously,’ we’ll have Indonesian food; ‘Babette’s Feast,’ we will have French cuisine; ‘American Graffiti,’ hamburgers and root beer floats,” Baker said, noting that the theater can be rented by the public.
“The experience that we are trying to create will be as if you are going to the airport to fly to a new place,” Baker said. “Hopefully, the food and film and the design of the theater will take you there and you’ ll be back home sleeping in your own bed after you’ve been around the globe for the day.
“Yes, we know it’s different. You probably won’t find the latest Marvel movie here, but we’re not interested in competing with that,” he added.
Curious about what he enjoys most about Space VR/SPACE, and what he’s most excited about for the future, Baker explained that he loves to travel, loves food and film.
“Combining the three passions and trying to suspend your disbelief for a few hours sounds exciting to me,” he said.
Looking to the future, Baker said long-term plans for SPACE include hosting weeklong film festivals — and possibly expanding the theater to three screens.
“We’re moving pretty fast, not at the speed of light [but] Closer to the speed of sound,” he said.
Personally, I’m looking forward to what Space VR/SPACE will accomplish in the future, and am excited to spread the word that more recreational activities are opening up to teenagers and kids of all ages in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Elle Arvesen is a local high schooler, and SYV News Teen Life columnist.