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Published: 5/19/2010

Smashing idea: New business offers stressed customers a break

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Walter Williams, manager of the Wreck Shop, with some of the glassware clients can smash against the walls. Walter Williams, manager of the Wreck Shop, with some of the glassware clients can smash against the walls.
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The purpose of the Wreck Shop is simple: Break things, feel better.

Pay a few bucks if you're peeved — more if you're downright angry — and then throw a corresponding number of glass objects at a wall to make the frustration melt away. Think of it as stress management for the modern era.

The unusual new downtown business, which opened April 26 at 335 North Superior St., is the brainchild of Walter Williams, an airplane mechanic from Toledo who likes to break things and who has a feeling that you do too. There's even a sign in his office in case you're unsure.

"Remember Why You're Here," it says. Then it lists more than a half-dozen of the usual suspects, from "boss" to "high gas prices" to "child support."

The 32-year-old said that in the past, "I was always breaking stuff because I would get stressed."

Now Mr. Williams hopes to put that inclination to a more constructive use as he helps locals release their stress without putting a foot through the TV.

"The whole reason for having this business downtown is because of all the courthouses and the lawyers, policemen, child support court, divorce court, all of these things that are down here that make people upset," he said. "It was for people who work downtown, to give them relief."

While the business is not the first of its kind — a San Diego entrepreneur made headlines in 2008 with Sarah's Smash Shack — Mr. Williams said he was sparked by a TV show in which celebrities were asked to destroy storage units made up like hotel rooms.

"I thought to myself: I can do way better than them."

At the Wreck Shop, customers pay from $5 for six Libbey glass items to $30 for a 45-item package known as "Good day to go to jail." Then, as Mr. Williams says while he ushers them into one of six rooms: "The rules are: Break everything."

A curious Teena Cavanaugh, 28, walked in recently at the suggestion of a friend. Inside were all sorts of drinking glasses, beer mugs, wine glasses, shot glasses, margarita glasses, even pitchers, just waiting to be destroyed (and then recycled).

"I like to collect glass," she said later. "I was like, ‘This is nice. I want to take this home. You want me to break this?'"

Ms. Cavanaugh put on a paintball mask and jumpsuit, signed a legal waiver, and stepped into a room. (Some are themed. Ohio State fans, for example, might want to let out some aggression in the University of Michigan room.)

Standing behind a small, protective wall, things started innocently enough with the toss of a glass and a giggle. Then...

"I started throwing them harder and harder to see how hard I could hit the wall with them," she said.

Even though Ms. Cavanaugh didn't arrive upset about anything in particular, the mother of two said she came out strangely relieved.

"It was like — whew! — a weight lifted off of your shoulders," the West Toledo woman said. "This is a positive way to relieve your stress and your anger. You think about everything that you're upset about and basically just release it."

Matthew Lee, a 39-year-old from South Toledo, said his experience smashing glasses got his heart pounding. A professional stagehand, he did his work quickly and methodically, the sound of breaking glass mingling with alternative metal music pumped in by Mr. Williams.

"There's not a lot of places around where you can break stuff up and not get in trouble for it," Mr. Lee said. "I felt more relaxed throughout the rest of the day."

While the Wreck Shop probably won't help with instantaneous outbreaks of anger, it might benefit people with long-term frustrations, said Mychail Scheramic, director of behavioral health and psychiatry at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.

"Some people need a symbolic metaphor to let go of some issues that they may be carrying on for a long time," he said. "This is a symbolic ritual — physically destroying it."

That's not to say that there aren't other ways to relieve tension, like taking up physical activities such as running.

Wendi Sorensen, clinical manager for psychiatric services at Toledo Hospital, added that breaking a few glasses won't make the root of any stress go away, despite how attractive that sounds.

"Is there a market for [a place like the Wreck Shop]? Absolutely, because people are very frustrated in this world," she said. But true anger management means dealing with what triggers those emotions.

"From a professional standpoint, obviously we would encourage anyone to ... deal with the actual feelings" and identify the source of the anger, Mrs. Sorensen said.

That means talking, thinking, and maybe meditating, and the Wreck Shop has a prayer room that customers may use after they simmer down.

The only bad news for customers is probably good news for the Wreck Shop, especially if it is to be anything but a fad, according to Sonny Ariss, chairman of the management department and a fellow in the center for technological entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Toledo.

"We still have stress even if the economy improves," he said. "It's nice to be able to remind people that there's a safe place where you can take out your stress without hurting anybody."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103



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