ABINGDON, Va. — With as many as 100 five-star, handwritten reviews and nearly 3,000 followers on Facebook, Abingdon’s newest indoor play and party venue is becoming more than child’s play.

Stephanie Howard said her business, Play Date, located in the Highlands Shopping Center, is creating a positive impact in the community for both kids and adults.

After being in business for nearly a year, Howard has won second place as a start-up business in the 2019 Washington County Business Challenge. She also received the highest score from judges for “pitching” a business idea during the competition.

The Business Challenge is an annual business plan competition designed to attract entrepreneurs to start and expand business in the county.

Both awards will offer her a total of $3,000 to use toward expansion projects.

“I’m finding my business is answering a need I actually didn’t foresee when I opened in 2018,” Howard said.

“There’s a need for parents, grandparents and other caregivers to relax and just have someone to talk to while their children play in a safe and fun environment. We are delighted to be offering that feature.”

In addition to providing an indoor, clean space for kids ages 10 or younger to play, socialize and party, Play Date allows free admission to caregivers and noncrawling babies.

“It’s really such as compliment to be the place [that] caregivers trust enough to bring their children to play and to feel comfortable enough to enjoy some coffee and good conversation while they’re here,” said the business owner.

“The word is getting out. People really love Play Date and what we have to offer. It’s very heart-warming, and it makes me feel really good about our hard work.

“Our sales have increased by 50% since October 2018. I’ve also been able to hire two part-time employees.”

Booked months in advance, private parties have taken off, providing Howard the stable revenue needed to make her small business successful.

“I love being open during the week for kids to come and play, but my prices are so affordable, I can’t survive on that. Parties are what keep us afloat.

“We usually host five parties each weekend. Most private party spots are booked solid for the next two months. We offer private party packages where we do everything — we decorate and provide the pizzas, chips and drinks. All you have to do is bring the cake,” she said.

“A lot of caregivers are grandparents and even great-grandparents. We want to take the stress off of them. All they have to do is show up with the birthday child and a smile, and we’ve got the rest covered.”

Before opening her business, the mother often traveled with her children to Asheville, North Carolina, and Gray, Tennessee, to indoor playgrounds for one of their birthday parties or to play for the day.

“Being a mother of three children younger than 10, I know and understand the need for a clean, safe, affordable and fun space for our younger kids to exercise and socialize,” Howard said.

Howard said her rapid success as a businesswoman has prompted her to think about growing her small business. Currently, the facility offers opportunities for physical play, improving sensory skills and growth in socialization. Howard entered the Business Challenge with hopes of expanding her business with more learning opportunities for children.

First, she envisions adding an outdoor patio where parents and caregivers can soak up the sun while their children play at water and sand tables.

Her second idea is to convert a 150-square-foot unused space in Play Date into a Play Market.

“With our Play Market concept, we will teach children about money management, counting, customer service and, most of all, confidence for their young entrepreneurial minds,” she said.

Howard said the Business Challenge has given her greater confidence to pursue her business goals.

“I can’t say enough about the positive impact of the Business Challenge. I’m a college graduate, and I’ve taken business courses. I thought I knew how to write a business plan when I opened my business. Now, I have a true business plan.

“The Business Challenge makes you look at things realistically — where I am, what I can do differently. It gave me a solid foundation I thought I already had.”

Play Date, located on Charwood Drive, has extended hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday, starting May 7 as a summer trial. She hopes to continue the extended hours depending on popularity. The business opens 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Private parties are reserved for Friday and Saturday after 3 p.m. with two spots available on Sunday.

Follow Play Date on Facebook for prices and special events.

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Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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