VALRICO — Laura Grooms still has the plastic play castle she hid in as a youth when it was in her family's Chicago basement.
That was 30 years ago. She brought it with her when she moved to Florida during her college years, storing it in various bonus rooms and living rooms along the way.
Now it sits as a centerpiece inside the walls of her first business. It is a fun fort for children five and under to enjoy, as well as a symbol of her strength during an unexpected fight she endured shortly after opening her doors.
Grooms opened Play-Dates last August as an indoor play center for children "who desire an imaginative, challenging and fun environment in which to exercise, play, and explore."
Shortly after Christmas, she received news that the name she invested marketing and signage dollars promoting was trademarked and she was forced to change the name.
A kindergarten and reading teacher for 11 years, Grooms, 38, put on her creative cap and began 2018 converting her location at 1040 E Bloomingdale Avenue near the Green Boutique in Plaza Bella to Lolo's Play-Place – a nickname given to her by her nieces and nephews who couldn't pronounce her first name.
"What a headache," Grooms said about the forced name change. "It's like trademarking the word pizza. I wanted to keep the word play in my name, but I couldn't use play place by itself."
When Grooms moved to Hillsborough County in 2016 after teaching in Seminole County, she noticed there was no play time allocated in kindergarten and kindergarteners went outside every other day at best.
She also surveyed her students and discovered many of them spent four-five hours a day watching TV.
"They were taught to sit all day," Grooms said. "I thought, 'These children do not get enough play, I'm done (teaching).' I opened this up. I have children – I know how important this is."
Stay at home moms, grandparents, nannies and groups visit Lolo's Play-Place for imaginary play, social skills and educational enrichment that takes place daily at 10:30 a.m.
Music and movement, story tales, arts & crafts, toddler time and fine motor skills are among the offerings, but sometimes organizations such as F.R.I.E.N.D.S, a down syndrome Tampa non-profit, visit.
Kathy Boisseau is the FRIENDS playgroup director. Her 3-year-old son, Finnegan, is one of 15 children part of the Families Raising, Inspiring, Educating, & Networking for Down Syndrome group who visit Lolo's Play-Place.
"My goal for him is to have friends who understand him and see him as a person," Boisseau said, noting the welcoming environment at Lolo's Play-Place. "We need to start now preparing for the future."
Up to 24 kids at a time, all wearing socks, are welcome to enjoy the 1,800 square feet of crawling, building and creating space. The daily rate is $6.25 for infants up to 11 months old or $10 for 1-5 year olds.
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You also can sign up for 5- or 10-visit passes ($25-$80 depending on age) or for monthly ($55) and yearly memberships ($205).
Visit playplacetampa.com for details.
Ford's adds option
on water in Riverview
Tiki Docks, a boat friendly restaurant, is coming to Riverview on the Alafia River thanks to a $7.2 million investment from Florida hospitality company 23 Restaurant Services, that owns Ford's Garage.
The 15,000-square-foot restaurant is slated to have three bars, a large patio and boat docks.
The restaurant, scheduled to open later this year, also will offer jet ski, jet boat, kayak and paddle board rentals. Ahi tuna, shrimp, burgers and grilled wings will highlight the menu. Cars will be welcome too.
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