Bellingham Axe brings ax-throwing to downtown, gives people a chance to try something new while social distancing indoor
By Kaelin Bell
“It’s much more exciting than throwing a dart,” said Matt Kinney, owner of Bellingham Axe.
Bellingham Axe opened in June with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing. Operating a business under health restrictions is the only way he knows how, Kinney said. Masks are required, and thorough cleaning is performed between reservations.
Kinney described his endeavor as a first-time business owner as an exciting new chapter. Despite the challenges, he has begun the process of opening a bar above the ax-throwing venue.
“There’s a strong sense of family downtown with the businesses that I’ve met,” Kinney said. “Everyone is welcoming. Bellingham has taken to it pretty well.”
At Bellingham Axe, customers can reserve private lanes for throwing, either solo or with a group. An hour of throwing costs $20 per person. Bellingham Axe also has eight-week-long competition leagues ranging in difficulty from beginner to pro.
“I’m going to have to open up more hours,” Kinney said. “We want to open up Wednesdays because that’s Western students’ night. We’re going to make it more of a themed type thing.”
Kinney is a Western graduate who decided to bring ax throwing to Bellingham after visiting a similar business, Axe Kickers, in Seattle.
Bellingham Axe was designed with Bellingham’s atmosphere in mind. The art inside, for instance, was created by Bellingham artist Shawn Cass, who is known for his large outdoor piece “Bird Alley” in downtown Bellingham, as well as other vibrant graffiti murals across the city.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had anything here in town that’s different,” Kinney said. “We have a lot of breweries, we have a lot of coffee shops, that’s the main reason I chose ax throwing.”
When Bellingham Axe opened, it was the only ax-throwing venue between Seattle and Canada, and it has attracted a wide range of people.
“I thought there would be more of a younger crowd, but it has been so widespread as far as the demographic goes,” Kinney said. “There is no person that doesn’t enjoy when the ax hits the target and sticks.”
At the top of each reservation’s time block, Bellingham Axe’s “AXEperts” guide people through basic ax-throwing techniques and safety precautions, such as never retrieving an ax when someone is throwing.
Fourth-year Western students Jaliyah Putney and Naseeba Ahmed visited Bellingham Axe after seeing someone else post about their experience on social media.
“With everything going on in the world right now, it’s nice to have a place to get your frustration out with friends while still social distancing and being safe,” Ahmed said. “I think with seasons changing and school being stressful, it’s nice to do something fun and get a good workout in, too. I think it’s a great addition to the community.”
Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, downtown Bellingham has done well, said Jennifer Walters, retail advocate for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.
“We’ve actually had more new businesses open this year than close,” Walters said. “Bellingham Axe brings an activity to downtown and to Bellingham in general. Everyone in the world is craving experiences right now.”
Many businesses that have opened during the pandemic already had their business plans in motion and had to completely change their business models.
“Anyone that opened during this just deserves so much,” Walters said. “From their business plan, up to their architecture, to their financing had to completely switch. They didn’t adapt; they had to reinvent while they were inventing.”