ABINGDON, Va. — When local mom Stephanie Howard couldn’t find a nearby party and play venue for her three young children, she opened one herself.
The Abingdon entrepreneur, along with her husband Christopher Howard, opened the doors July 21 to Play Date, a privately owned business they believe will be an asset to the Southwest Virginia community.
Play Date, located in the Highlands Shopping Center on Charwood Drive in Abingdon, is an indoor, climate-controlled playground and party venue for children ages 10 and younger.
“With no time limit on play, children can play as long as they want at one low price,” Stephanie said.
“Being a mother of three children younger than 10, I know and understand the need for a clean, safe, affordable and fun space for our younger kids to exercise and socialize.”
The mother said she found local play venues in the Bristol area to be less suitable for younger children. “Facilities that serve a mixture of ages are not as safe for the little ones, she said.
“As a stay-at-home mom for the past six years, I’ve traveled many times with my children to Asheville, North Carolina, and Gray, Tennessee, to indoor playgrounds for one of their birthday parties or to play for the day.
“It was an all-day thing. We had to eat out for lunch and dinner and then pay for using the facility. It’s also hard to ask family and friends to travel that far. That limits who can attend,” she said.
“Now, parents and guardians can pop in and out and let their children use up some excess energy without having to make a day trip.
“My No. 1 mission,” said the owner, “is to provide a safe, clean and fun atmosphere for kids 10 and younger.
“Another focus is to provide a relaxing and stress-free space for parents and guardians to work, relax, read, watch television, browse the internet or just enjoy a cup of coffee while their children play. Adults and non-crawling infants are always free.”
Her long-term plans are to open multiple locations of the business in the area.
The time was right
Earlier this year, the 35-year-old knew the time was right to start building her first business.
“I’ve always wanted to own my business,” said Stephanie, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 2005 with a degree in hospitality and tourism management. “I love being around people and making them happy. And I especially love seeing joy in kids’ eyes.”
After managing restaurants in Wilmington, North Carolina, she soon returned to her Russell County home to reconnect with her close-knit family, work for the family’s heating and cooling business and help care for her elderly grandfather.
“The dream to open an indoor playground had been in the back of my mind for years.
“We found this vacant building in Abingdon, and the rest just fell into place. I’m just so excited to get this business going after months of plans and hard work.”
After conducting extensive research with other similar businesses throughout the country, Stephanie designed the play area with a “My Town” theme, using fictitious names of businesses to decorate the exterior of the play areas.
“Each name in my play town is similar to actual business names in Abingdon, such as The Inn, Wolf Hills Art Gallery, Barter Antiques, Creeper Trail Market and Falcon Bank.
“It’s pretty cool.”
The mother’s fond memories of her own childhood play helped her choose the play equipment.
“I couldn’t resist featuring a ball pit and slide in the play area. Growing up, that was my favorite thing, and it’s still a big hit with young children,” said Stephanie, who invited her family and friends for a pre-opening experience last week.
Other features include obstacles, a Nerf ball arena and a separate toddler area for children 2 years of age and younger.
Stephanie said one of her important jobs will be disinfecting the play areas and equipment each day for the protection of the children.
She estimates the new facility will accommodate as many as 50 children at one time.
She’s really excited about a separate area in the room that can accommodate as many as 20 children for weekday and Sunday private parties.
Three-hour private parties can be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Sundays. “The customer chooses the décor color and brings the desserts, and I furnish the decorating, utensils, pizza, chips, drinks and balloons.”
Parents and guardians of children ages 2 and younger pay $5.99 Tuesdays through Thursdays and $6.99 Fridays and Saturdays. Children ages 3 to 10 pay $7.99 Tuesdays through Thursdays and $8.99 Fridays and Saturdays.
Weekday parties start at $120.
“Thanks to the love and support of our family and dear friends, we are ready to get this party started,” Stephanie said.
“The fun has just begun.”
To learn more about Play Date or to reserve a party, follow them on their Facebook page, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 276-206-8383.
Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at email@example.com.