Play 'N Around owner hopes for parties all the time

March 29, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Two-year-old Ashley Wheeler was toddling along in the sunshine at Freedom Village Shopping Center. Anne Wheeler, a frequent shopper at the Liberty Road center, kept a careful watch as her daughter peered into a store window.

The pair were watching the preopening progress of South Carroll's newest business: Play 'N Around Fun Center, which promises "fun for the entire family."

"I hope it's open in time for Ashley's birthday next month," said Ms. Wheeler. "We could have a party there."

Play 'N Around is scheduled to open Monday in the shopping center anchored by the Martin's supermarket. It is accepting reservations for its party room, the perfect setting for childish birthday celebrations, said the owner, Christopher M. Werner.

After presents, cake and ice cream, celebrants can ride on the space train, drive bumper cars or run through the jungle gym -- "a big maze of nets, tunnels, balls and slides," Mr. Werner said.

"With 11,000 square feet, we should do just fine for everyone," he said as he helped set up a pinball machine for the older crowd.

The sometime-mover, full-time general contractor and party caterer, Mr. Werner, 28, spent a few hours last week trying to decide whether the concession stand should offer soft-serve or hand-dipped ice cream.

He said he doesn't always know what kids want but will soon have first-hand experience. He and his wife are expecting their first child next month.

When the couple moved to Eldersburg three years ago, he began to look for business opportunities. Formerly employed with an insurance company, Mr. Werner wanted to be part of the community and start a family-oriented business

near home -- within commuting distance on his bicycle.

"After 18 months of research, I found no place locally where kids could go and have fun on their own," he said. "I am starting from square one in the family entertainment business." He is co-owner of the business with Jeff Fleegle of Ellicott City.

L He said he has a high noise tolerance and low stress level.

"Your education background doesn't matter as much as staying one step ahead of your competitors," said Mr. Werner, who has a degree in business management.

The center targets the 3- to-11-year-old crowd with separate areas appealing to different age groups. He hopes to attract walk-in customers from nearby communities.

Play 'N Around will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. The facility will employ about 25 people and can accommodate about 325 players at a time.

While baby-sitting will not be provided, Mr. Werner has worked out a color-coded armband system that would allow parents to shop nearby while their children play.

"The child won't be able to leave until a parent with the same color band picks him up," Mr. Werner said.

For a $5.99 ticket, children can play all day. Admission is free for parents.

"We want to encourage parent-child interaction," he said. "The bumper cars are full-size but they come with blocks for the younger kids. Adults can fit through the gym."

The three-car space train travels the perimeter of the 30-by-40-by-12-foot gym, which sprawls across half the building space.

"As kids are riding through, they can see other kids playing around," Mr. Werner said.

Vicky Deaver dropped in at the indoor playground last week. As she chatted with Mr. Werner about birthday cakes, her 3-year-old daughter, Jaime, worked her way through a tunnel and tested the jungle gym.

"It's not even all together and she is having a ball," Ms. Deaver said.

The older, more sophisticated bunch can take turns at several video games as well as skee-ball, air hockey and basketball, Mr. Werner said.

Although ice cream consistency remains undecided, the concession stand will cater carnival-type food.

"We will serve all the good junk food a kid needs," Mr. Werner said. "Or, for the health-conscious, there will be fruit bars and yogurt."

Ms. Deaver said she liked the layout and half-walls that allow parents to see the entire room.

"Parents don't have to chase kids around," Mr. Werner said. "They can see all over."

Play 'N Around will have a monthlong contest to name its signature character, whose smiling face appears several places along the rainbow that lines the white walls. The winner will receive a free birthday party.

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