Zion Climbing and Event Center, one of the featured businesses on season four of “Small Business Revolution,” closed its doors this spring in response to COVID-19 concerns and a decline in business upon students’ return to their homes.
“COVID was the initial reason as far as discontinuing back in March, and because of the nature of climbing and having your hands over everything,” Sean Hudkins, former owner and program director of Zion, said. “We lost a lot of volunteers when Harding closed, and it really wasn’t practical.”
Following the gym’s closing, Daniel Ockay, a friend of Hudkins and former advisor at Zion, chose to step in to help reopen Zion’s doors.
“I’ve worked with Zion since 2005, and it’s something I have always been passionate about,” Ockay said. “I talked with Sean … at the beginning of the semester just to see where things were at, and it ended up being something I thought was worth putting the time and effort into.”
Even though Zion’s ownership is changing, Hudkins remains Zion’s executive director. Hudkins said he believes Zion’s mission and goal will remain intact throughout the reopening process.
“We are keeping the core values of safety and relationship building but with new eyes and new energy,” Hudkins said. “Our desire is to still have a place where people can hangout and feel like they belong under the umbrella of rock climbing.”
Ockay said he is learning from some of Zion’s past mistakes in order to bring in new faces and customers to the rock climbing gym.
“Zion has struggled with being accessible to new climbers in the past, and that’s something we are hoping to change up,” Ockay said. “We want to make it so there are fewer reasons to not come in here, and that there’s less of a distinction between volunteers and customers who come in.”
Several Harding students have volunteered their time to help Zion reopen and feel like it will be beneficial for students in the future.
“Zion is a great atmosphere for all students whether you want to climb or not, and it’s honestly one of my favorite atmospheres in Searcy,” junior Sam Chester said. “We have space where you can do homework and chill, listen to music and vibe, or throw on some shoes and give climbing a shot.”
Zion is open seven days a week from noon to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6-11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.