Who Else Remembers DZ! Discovery Zone In Kalamazoo?
“You’re either in the Zone, or you’re not.” Nineties babies will remember this slogan of the popular chain of children’s indoor play centers, the one and only DZ! Discovery Zone. If you grew up in Kalamazoo during this time, you probably remember the old DZ location on Westnedge next to Hobby Lobby and the also ill-fated Toys R’ Us. You probably even celebrated a birthday or two there, or you at least attended someone else’s party. Have you ever wondered what became of the now-forgotten chain of family centers?
DZ! Discovery Zone got its start in Kansas City in 1989 and quickly spread across the Midwest, operating over 250 facilities in its prime. Attributing to their instant success was the outstanding investors DZ was able to pull. Among these investors were Blockbuster Video, Viacom (which owns Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, and Showtime) and even tennis Hall of Famer Billie Jean King was an early investor. DZ also made history as the first corporate sponsor of Sesame Street! So what went wrong?
Charles Entertainment Cheese is what went wrong. In operation since the ‘70s, Chuck E. Cheese was DZ’s direct competition. In an effort to compete with Chuck E., DZ spread itself too thin by expanding too rapidly and by June 1999 the chain was forced to abruptly close half of their facilities, leaving many kids without a place to celebrate their upcoming birthday! Families were no doubt furious, leaving Chuck E. Cheese to step up and save the day. By 2001 all remaining DZ! Discovery Zones had closed.
Not that I hold anything against Chuck, but DZ holds a special place in my heart. I was never lucky enough to celebrate my own birthday there, but I distinctly remember playing in the ball pit, sliding down the roller slides, and climbing the play structures at my fellow classmates’ birthday parties back in elementary school.
You’ll be happy to hear there is a silver lining to this story: as recently as 2020, two new Discovery Zone locations have opened in the US—one in Cincinnati and one in Kentucky. Though the facilities aren’t directly affiliated with the old DZs, they claim to be heavily inspired by them. I don’t know about you, but I’m always down for a road trip!
Did you ever celebrate a birthday at DZ! Discovery Zone?