Successful first season at ‘A Place to Play’

Cathy Kromer joins in the fun at A Place to Play on Spring Street.

A box of legos tumble to the floor, the cooing voice of a woman calls across the room: “that’s okay, we’ll clean it up later.”

She bends down onto the foam sea surrounding a stationary wooden fishing boat, and helps a little boy playing captain buckle his life jacket.

“My background is in kindergarten and first grade education,” says Cathy Kromer, owner of A Place to Play in Friday Harbor. “This is my comfort zone.”

A Place to Play, located at 55 Spring Street, opened its doors Memorial Day Weekend. In children’s museum style, it functions as an indoor playing space for children, where imagination and creation are at the forefront of fun.

Kromer isn’t a “babysitter” by any means, yet she spends most of her day playing alongside the kids. Parents must accompany their kids, but relaxing on the plush colorful couches and 1950s style diner tables, with a good book or the free wi-fi provided, is certainly an option.

The idea to open the business was planted nearly a decade ago, and the timing was finally right. Experiencing an empty nest as both Kromer’s son’s (one’s an artist, the other an outdoorsman) graduated from high school and moved away from home, and with her daughter studying in Argentina for her junior year of high school, the timing was opportune.

“Sometimes I don’t know if in our busy lives kids get time to just play,” Kromer said. “Their lives are so structured now.”

kidFrom the wooden train table and boat, to the ball wall, to the mural, to the fence outside—building the place in six short months required teamwork. Kromer credits local weldors, contractors, artists and interior decorators for helping it all come together.

Opening and running the business hasn’t been without challenges. The most difficult part was, and still is, getting the word out. Informing tourists before they arrive in Friday Harbor that there’s a space they can take their kids is something Kromer is still working on.

She discovered that many of her customers were boaters, who had children cooped up for several hours of travel. Located near the ferry terminal, she also had many people who were killing time before their scheduled departure. Equally important as the tourists in summer, however, are locals, including island-residing grandparents visited by their grandchildren throughout the year.

Kromer is optimistic that the winter months will continue to be busy, as the weather keeps people indoors, and playtime at home can get a bit redundant.

A Place to Play offers “frequent-player passes,” which includes 12 visits at $5 each. Admission is normally $7.50 per person, with a $1 discount for islanders. Renting the space for a birthday party is also available.

For the time being, the space is open Monday mornings, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m., for special activities and art projects, Thurs.-Fri. 10 a.m.-4 p.m, and Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Visit www.aplacetoplay.biz for updates on business hours.

“For the 10 years I’ve lived here, I’ve always thought Friday Harbor needed an inside place to play,” Kromer said. “I’m a big believer in play for kids.”