By Jonathan Kopeliovich | UConn Journalism
In West Hartford, at the end of the isolated side street New Park Avenue, a grungy loading dock of a white warehouse is littered with broken rotary telephones and blow dryers at the gate. A smiley face with green graffiti spells out “Smash Avenue.” Inside, Donovan Rampassard shatters beer bottles with a baseball bat to the tune of Lil Baby’s “California Breeze.”
“Sometimes, you just feel like breaking some shit in a controlled environment,” Rampassard said.
At Smash Avenue, which was the first rage room in Connecticut when it opened in 2020, people like Rampassard can pay for a 15-minute session to unleash their anger with weapons like hammers and shovels on beer bottles, television sets and furniture.
Rage rooms have opened across the country in recent years, with CNN writing in 2019 that there were more than 60. In Connecticut, Smash Room and Let’s Smash, opened up in early 2022 and May 2021, respectively.
Why people come to rage rooms varies. Smash Avenue employee J.T. recalled a woman who came in after her husband passed, crying while smashing objects and playing sad music. Other times, J.T. has played Limp Bizkit as bachelor parties came in with the betrothed, saying that they “want to break things before a long-term commitment.”
Rampassard’s friend brought him along to Smash Avenue after a woman “stood him up.” It got Rampassard’s adrenaline pumping.
Participants get to choose between two rooms, each of which are roughly the size of a small classroom. With each swing, glass thundered on the floor, but Smash Avenue offers no hearing protection.
Jesus Lizardo, another customer, expressed a sense of euphoria after taking that first swing with a metal bat.
“I thought I was going to feel some sort of relief, but I just wanted to keep smashing things. I left wanting to smash more,” Lizardo later wrote in an Instagram message.
Smash Avenue employee J.T., who asked his last name not be used as he discussed his mental health, said he has struggled with anger issues since elementary school and finds the smash room therapeutic. He said he has done at least one session “every other week or so.”
“When I get angry, I usually like to keep it in. When I get to that point, I’m the one who would go and try to yell at somebody,” he said. “Sometimes, it wouldn’t even matter what people were saying. It got me mad and I would just start swinging. I was always getting suspended from school.”
Smash Avenue owner Shaun Chambers told WTNH that the desire for a rage room was brought on by the pandemic. Long-term isolation from friends, the death of loved ones, and struggling as a father during online schooling gave him a short fuse. He didn’t feel like he had a healthy outlet to express his anger.
And people seem to lose their temper more than ever nowadays. The New York Times reported on an increase of egregious customer behavior, like when one man lost his mind when the store didn’t have his favorite blue cheese. The American Psychological Assocation wrote in June 2022 that even minor decisions for adults had become overwhelming due to pandemic-induced stress.
But some mental health professionals believe that rage rooms aren’t appropriate for anger management in the long run. Studies, like this meta-analysis in 2021, suggest that catharsis through aggression encourages people to continue to engage in aggressive acts.
At Southern Connecticut State University, there’s a 10-week anger management group. Dr. Sujatha Herne, the clinic manager coordinates intake for a diverse group of clients, most of whom are convicted for violent crimes and mandated by court to go. Herne said that she believes that rage room sessions can help reinforce the concept that aggression is a healthy way to cope with anger in both offenders and the general population.
“Depending on how you grew up, there are people who might have seen that being angry causes their parents to give them attention. They learned that anger is the path to results,” Herne said. “And when your solution to that anger is going to a place and smashing stuff, you’re kind of training yourself to only be able to cope with your anger in that.”
Herne said that therapy, sports and meditation is the way to go for anger management. Smash Avenue fans said they have other strategies, too: Rampassard takes his anger out by lifting at the gym, and J.T. plays track, football and baseball regularly.
Herne also said that rage rooms could be a refuge for women.
“Women also are not given the same latitude to be angry in the same way as men, who are usually more aggressive. Women are expected to be able to tone down that part of themselves,” Herne said.
J.T. has noticed this trend at Smash Avenue. New York’s Rage Cage and Miami’s Smash the Rage have observed the same trend at their venues, according to news stories.
There have also been concerns that rage rooms pose an environmental risk. In 2019, a California business was cited for improperly disposing of electronic waste, since smashing old laptops and TVs could release toxic metals.
Smash Avenue manager Tee Gaston did not return calls for comment, but J.T. said that Smash Avenue gets most of their materials from moving companies, who offer junk removal services to consumers.
The two white shipping containers across the parking lot are usually filled to the brim with smashables, but they can get so busy that they are emptied out in a day or two.
“We get busy around February, just in time for Valentine’s Day, and until the start of the academic year in September,” J.T. said.