A play space for big-time fun

In Columbia, 6,000 square feet of carpeted area and 8 enormous inflatables for the kids

Business profile AIRMania Fun Zone

May 23, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Stephen Robinson, who will be 2 next month, dashed for the giant inflatable monster truck as soon as his shoes were off. After four months of visits to AIRMania Fun Zone, he knew the play space well. His favorite, he indicated with a shy point of the finger, is the firetruck.

AIRMania, which opened in late January on Red Branch Road in Columbia, is owned by Alan Harry, his son, Chris Harry, and a third partner, Ed Sharkey. It offers 6,000 square feet of carpeted space for kids like Stephen to play, and eight enormous inflatable devices for them to play on.

Most of the inflatables are more than 20 feet tall and have features such as slides and basketball hoops inside them. A smaller structure in the shape of a red-capped mushroom is filled with plastic balls.

Most mornings, AIRMania is open for play from 10 a.m. to noon. The cost is $6 for the first child and $3 for each additional child, up to a maximum of $12 per family, said Alan Harry. Children like Stephen, who are younger than 2, play for free. In the afternoons and evenings, the space is reserved for parties.

Stephen's grandmother, Eleanor Johnson, said she has been taking Stephen to AIRMania once or twice a week since shortly after it opened. "I baby-sit on certain days, and I come here," she said. "He likes balls and he likes jumping, and he goes down the slides. He has fun."

As a bonus for her, she said, "by the time he leaves, it's time for a nap. He's exhausted."

Alan Harry, 61, the managing partner of the enterprise, has worked for car dealerships most of his life. But he wanted to start a business. His son, Chris, works for a large technology company, he said. The third partner is a dentist.

Alan Harry said he was attracted to the business because "nobody wants to do parties at home anymore." The partners are renting the 8,000-square-foot space, and they purchased the inflatables from a California company called Extreme Bounce.

"These are not your normal outdoor church-rental bouncers," Alan Harry said. All of the inflatables are enormous and colorful. They are sturdy enough for adults, who often play just as hard as the kids, said Bonnie J. Harry, Alan's wife, who pitches in sometimes.

AIRMania has two party rooms, each set up with a long table, so kids can have cake or pizza during their parties.

For parties, participants get 80 minutes of play time and 40 minutes in the party room. The space can accommodate two parties at a time, swapping sides so that everyone has an opportunity to play on each piece of equipment. The parties have been for kids between the ages of 4 and 8, Alan Harry said.

Bonnie Harry said the partners have made changes in response to customer comments. For example, they placed step ladders next to the giant firetruck, so parents could see inside. And they added a sheer curtain, which can be pulled across the middle of the room to separate two parties.

Next, the partners are thinking of starting a movie day Friday mornings. Kids would watch an age-appropriate movie in the play arena, then the inflatables would be filled - a process that takes three minutes - and they would play, Alan Harry said.

The partners are in the process of opening a second location. They are considering a site in Westminster, though the deal is not final, Alan Harry said.

The Howard County location is bustling, he said. Most weekdays, he said, a dozen kids or more are there to play. And on snow days and other times when the weather is poor, the space meets its 50-person maximum within minutes of opening, he said.

Robinson, who lives in Columbia, can understand the appeal. Her grandson never seems to run out of enthusiasm for AIRMania, she said. And she likes that Stephen can play there in any weather.

"When it's hot out, it's cool in here," she said, sitting on one of the many benches in the play area. "And in the winter, when you have no place to go, you can come here."

AIRMania Fun Zone is at 9198 Red Branch Road, Suite F, Columbia. 410-740-4999.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.