By Doug Ireland firstname.lastname@example.org,
---- — SALEM — Labor Day will mark the end of an era at Victorian Park.
Owner Larry Belair said yesterday he and his wife, Verna, are retiring and selling the 22-year-old miniature golf course and family entertainment center. The park will become the new home of Bien Soigne spa of Windham.
A building that was once an arcade will feature a Himalayan salt cave. The greens and ice cream parlor will disappear, and the grounds will feature a meditation garden and place for yoga.
But for the couple, both 73, it’s bittersweet, Larry Belair said.
“For us, it will be a sad day when the closing of the park finally comes,” he said. “We loved our years in this business.”
Belair said he’s been trying to sell the property for at least eight years, but it was difficult because of the slumping economy. Miniature golf is also seeing a decline in popularity, he said.
More young people are interested in Facebook and texting their friends than playing a round of mini golf, Belair said.
“The kids don’t put the iPhones down long enough to pick up a putter,” he said.
For more than two decades, Belair said he and his wife have looked forward to the park’s opening each April after spending four months in Florida.
But next April will be different.
“We may not be rushing up I-95 to get here by April 1 anymore,” he said. “We’ve already booked a river cruise in April to see the Tulip Festival in Holland.”
Belair, a builder for 35 years, said he opened the park in 1992 after seeing how popular miniature golf had become in Florida. He and his wife visited 100 courses before coming up with their own design.
The Haunted Mansion, one of the park’s most popular features each fall, closed five years ago after a similar attraction opened at Canobie Lake Park, he said.
Belair said more than 175 young people worked at the park over the years, including all 10 of his grandchildren. The Belairs attended many of their employees’ weddings.
“The great relationships that we built with the young people who worked for us was the best part of our years at Victorian Park,” he said.
A reunion of past employees and their families is planned at the park June 29, he said.
More than 50 former employees from across the country plan to attend with their families, Belair said.
“Some of those kids are approximately 40 years old now,” he said.
The end of an era for Victorian Park marks the beginning of a new era for Bien Soigne, which owner Kay Sharron plans to open on the four-acre North Broadway site in October.
“It’s been an institution in this area for years,” Sharron said of the park. “I’m a big miniature golf fan, so I will be sad to see it go, but at least we will be benefiting.”
Sharron said she’s been looking for additional space, including more parking, for years while remaining close to her customer base. Her current location is a mile and a half away, she said.
A unique feature at her spa will be a Himalayan salt cave — a room lined with ancient, imported blocks of salt. Spending time in a salt cave is therapeutic, especially for those suffering from respiratory illnesses, Sharron said.
The Planning Board granted approval for the 6,000-square-foot location in March, town planner Ross Moldoff said. He said Victorian Park has been a good neighbor in town for years, recalling when he used to bring his own children to the park.
“It’s really been an institution in the community,” Moldoff said. “It’s a great family entertainment facility. We were lucky to have it in the community.”