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Kids play with firm's work

Published Oct. 6, 2005

One in an occasional series

Dave Bloom got into the playground equipment business by default.

About 10 years ago, the then-real estate and mortgage broker and his wife, Susan, were looking for swings, slides, and maybe a tower, for their sons, then about 4, 5 and 8.

"The department store sets faded away, and we were looking for something more substantial. We came upon a playground company for sale," he says. "We saw there was a need in the area, so we bought the assets."

And that's how he got playground equipment for his sons. It's also how he got into the business, All About Playgrounds, 6352 49th St. N, and has been in it ever since. (Hint: You may have trouble finding the shop. It's behind Brown Brothers Collision.)

Pictures on the walls and in scrapbooks of his little office show an unbelievable amount of equipment that the burgeoning company has placed in schools, parks, churches, nurseries and many private homes.

His small front office leads into a big warehouse-workshop in back, where component galvanized steel piping in a variety of shapes, pressure-treated pine, and a recycled composite of wood and plastic become picnic tables, shelters, rainbow ladders, bicycle racks, flagpoles, swing sets and hanging ladders.

There are boxes full of commercial and regular grade swivels, hooks and joints. There are swivels that turn 360 degrees so tire swing chains won't get braided, and plastic bushings to prevent the noise and wear of metal on metal.

"This is forever kind of stuff," Bloom says.

At the moment a full-time carpenter and a welder are at work. When big orders come in, other contracted workers come in. Often day laborers are hired.

"As we build it, it gets loaded on a trailer, taken out, and we install it," Bloom says. "And we maintain it. too." This even includes refilling sand boxes they've built. "We build wood structures, modular systems they can customize and add onto. As children get older, they have different needs."

Lynn Piper's children are typical of the "different needs." The Pipers bought playground equipment from Bloom when son Andrew was just 3 and his sister Lindsay 1. They are now 10 and 8 and son Alex is 5, and the set is being moved for the second time with expansion of the house. To the original swings, two towers, a sled, a firefighter's pole, rope ladder, and swinging bridge, they are adding a balance beam, chin bar and rings, and replacing a metal slide with a plastic wave slide. Their two older children are working on the President's Fitness Award at school, and thought the beam, bar and rings would help.

The equipment has held up wonderfully, Mrs. Piper says. "The house has had some termites, but the playground equipment never has. And they have been real good about "moving with us.' It's a neat, neat playground."

Prices vary from $313 for an A-frame swing set for a home to thousands of dollars for a commercial jungle gym complete with tires, slide, bridge and fire pole.

When Faith Bedford wanted developmental playground equipment for 16 children in cottages at Pinellas Association for Retarded Children, she and Bloom sat down and discussed the children's needs.

"I pretty well knew what the level of the functioning of the children was, and he told me what was available and what they could make," Ms. Bedford says. "He was back this week, as the children's needs have increased." The equipment included swings that are molded for children with cerebral palsy, bench swings and tire swings. "They love circular motion," she says.

"He is a great guy to work with, and having a company in the community is neat," Ms. Bedford says. "Dave is a president who has dirt on his hands. He's right there with it."

Sometimes, on request, Bloom installs playground equipment from other companies when he does not make it himself. The firms include Child Works, Iron Mountain Forge, Playworld Systems and Game Time. He does not carry sports equipment such as footballs and basketballs, but does carry tetherballs. He installs them on the chains and stands that he makes.

And, yes, he does make picnic shelters and picnic tables for adults, and grills and garbage can receptacles.

"But basically, all we do is playgrounds," he says. Hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you want an appointment on Saturday, call 546-5076.