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The lights are flickering out at Q-Zar Tampa laser tag arena

After nearly 25 years of business, the entertainment center is offering a discount during its final days
The sign outside of Q-Zar Tampa on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 in Tampa.
The sign outside of Q-Zar Tampa on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Aug. 28, 2020

TAMPA — For 25 years, Q-Zar Tampa has played host to corporations and religious groups, sports teams and schools.

This weekend, the popular laser tag joint and arcade on N Dale Mabry Highway is closing its doors for good.

In a final hurrah, the center opened its doors Friday to the community with $7 laser tag — the price from its opening year, 1995. The discount, from the usual $8.75, will also run Saturday from noon to 11 p.m.

Q-Zar co-owner Brad Cohen said whenever he was feeling down, coming into the store lifted his mood.

“It just became a fun place to be,” he said in a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

Brad Cohen and his older brothers Robert and Marty first created the store after hearing about the franchise from a friend who had moved to Europe.

Originally called Quasar, the concept was created in Australia in 1987 and sold to an Irish company in 1991, Cohen said. That company was later sold to Q-ZAR International in Dallas.

The Cohens bought their way out of the franchise a few years after they opened their doors so they could operate independently. For Brad, some of the most meaningful memories came from working with teenage staffers to help them grow and mature. He said he also enjoyed seeing young kids overcome their fear of the dark in the laser tag arena.

Players are equipped with vests and laser guns before being released into a black and neon maze lit with blacklights. They are divided into two teams that gain points by shooting their opponents’ vests and a target the other team tries to defend. Players lose points if they get shot or shoot members of their own team. Anthony Santiago, 30, and Vanessa Santiago, 32, brought their kids Daniel, 11, Ezekiel, 8, and Liam, 8, to Q-Zar on Friday to celebrate the end of the first week of school. Last year, Daniel celebrated his birthday here. Anthony said he used to go to a bowling alley next door.

“It seems like everything’s closing down,” he said.

Bill, 54, and Nancy Freeman, 52, came to Q-Zar to support Brad, who was one of their first friends when they came to Tampa in 1993. Nancy said they spent “countless hours” at the prize booth with their kids who had a few birthday parties there.

“They had a ball,” Bill said.

Nancy and Bill Freeman visit Q-Zar Tampa on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. The couple formed a friendship with owner, Brad Cohen and his wife and have celebrated many occasions at the laser tag arena over the last 25 years.
Nancy and Bill Freeman visit Q-Zar Tampa on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. The couple formed a friendship with owner, Brad Cohen and his wife and have celebrated many occasions at the laser tag arena over the last 25 years. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Their daughter, McKenzie, 21, also remembers going to Q-Zar with her youth group and even worked there briefly.

“It just gives me nostalgia,” she said.

When he was a kid, Luis Vasquez’s youth group would come every Wednesday night to play laser tag. After he found out Q-Zar was closing, he drove all the way from Orlando to see it one more time.

“I was devastated,” he said.

On Friday, the 30-year-old took a picture in front of the Q-Zar photo area as he visited with his 24-year-old sister Michelle Vasquez. Everything looked smaller than he remembered as a kid. He wasn’t sure if he was going to play a game of laser tag.

But before an integral part of his childhood shuttered its doors, he wanted the chance to get one last slice of Perky’s Pizza and walk through the center’s arcade one final time.

Then, he decided to vest up and play one last round.