By Camille Gillies
“Quit monkeying around!”
Sound familiar? You may have reproached your children with those words or even heard them from your own parents when you were goofing off. One place you won’t hear them is at the new indoor play center that opened last month at The Shops at Wiregrass mall. At Monkey Bizness, little kids are encouraged to go ape!
The main attraction at Monkey Bizness is the PlaySmart gym, a soft, contained play system that’s a maze of a structure where kids under 7 or 8 can climb, swing, bounce and explore to their heart’s content. The PlaySmart indoor playground is professionally designed and constructed by the company of the same name, according to Monkey Bizness Wesley Chapel owner Kristin Green. “It’s a play gym designed for the younger child,” Kristen says. “But older kids can climb in too.” By “older kids,” she means ages 7 and younger because Monkey Bizness is primarily geared for little tykes and their parents. In fact, a special section with a triple-padded carpet is reserved for the youngest tots, or as Monkey Bizness refers to them, “crawlers.”
“We are designed primarily for toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary school-age children,” Kristin explains, adding that Monkey Bizness is a safe environment for younger children who might otherwise become overwhelmed by the more rambunctious play of older kids.
In the few short weeks since its debut, Monkey Bizness has already attracted a loyal following. Mom Sandra Weston has driven from Valrico every week since the July 14 opening to entertain her children Alexa, 7, and Jake, 4. Alexa says she enjoys painting and drawing in the art room, while her brother, Jake, romps on the indoor play apparatus.
“She would play here all day,” Sandra says of Alexa. Gazing at the finger-painting station, Sandra adds, “I like it because there is no mess at home.” Charged with supervising the children’s activities, staff member Ivett Lopez shares that plans are under way to add arts and crafts projects to the already fun art room activities.
Although the art room is fun, Monkey Bizness offers a pleasant atmosphere for its adult clientele, too. You can sip a Seattle’s Best coffee and chat with a friend in the dining/sitting area as you watch the kids hoot and holler on the play equipment.
That’s what moms Andrea Christopher and Lindsey Harrie were doing on their first visit from Zephyrhills. They brought four kids: two 7- and two 5-year-olds.
“A friend texted me about this cute place,” says Andrea. “It was raining and it seemed like a good indoor activity.” The women said they were impressed by the “clean environment” and “great location.”
“And, we were just saying that we wished we’d thought of (opening) it,” Andrea comments.
Unlike many other indoor play places, Monkey Bizness offers a full-service coffee bar, snacks and healthy grab-n-go meals.
“We like to say that while the kids play, moms can get a cup of coffee, dads can get some work done, and
grandparents can get a break,” says Kristin. “But we also encourage parents and caregivers to join the children in the play area.”
That’s where guest Betty Gilmore could be found, interacting with her three children on the play floor. A Grand Hampton resident, she has become a regular herself, and has been joined by friends from St. Petersburg on three different occasions.
“There is nothing like this place from here to St. Pete,” Betty says. “It’s great because it offers something that all three of my kids can do.” Her children include 18-month-old twins, Addison and Kendall, and son, Hayden, 3. “It’s also reasonably priced,” she adds. “And, they don’t mind if you bring your own snacks. Plus, they give you a wristband if you want to leave and re-enter.”
Betty says Monkey Bizness gives Hayden an opportunity to burn off an abundance of energy in a safe atmosphere. “He always loves to come back,” she comments. As they are belted into the triple stroller, the twins and Hayden all appear to be contentedly exhausted.
Despite the fact kids were scampering all over the play floor, Kristen said this particular Friday afternoon was a little slow. Things would pick up at 5 p.m., she predicted, because Fridays and Tuesdays are family nights, when admission is $5 per child and $3 for crawlers. (Typical admission is $8 for walkers and $5 for crawlers.) Tuesday also is dubbed “Takeout Tuesday” because families are welcome to pick up their favorite takeout meals from the many fine restaurants in the mall or even bring dinner in from home to enjoy with the kids.
“My husband and I know what it’s like to be working and have kids this age, and one of our goals is to make this a convenient place to bring your children,” Kristen explains. “We want it to be clean, safe and affordable.”
Residents of Lutz, Kristen and her husband, Bradley, both 36, have two sons: Spencer, 7, and Cooper, 5. Both graduated from USF, Bradley’s degree is in civil engineering and Kristen is a former high school business technology teacher at East Lake High in Pinellas County. They knew a few years ago that they wanted to open a business like this, and when her parents attended a grandchild’s birthday party in Illinois at one of the ten other Monkey Bizness franchises in five states (this is the first in Florida), they called and told her, “You can do this!” She says the dream has been two years in the making.
Her passion for the business is evident as she describes the thrill of watching the wide-eyed children: “My husband and I see the little ones so excited to be here and we feel it right here (pointing to her heart) because we didn’t have a place like this to bring our kids when they were that age.”
Unlike most Monkey Bizness franchises, which are located in strip centers, this one has the benefit of the beautiful surroundings of The Shops at Wiregrass.
“We knew this is where we wanted to be,” Kristen says, adding that the Wiregrass location appeals to both kids and parents because they can visit Barnes & Noble or Dillard’s, ride the train, shop or have a meal in one of the many restaurants. “If there is a waiting list at Monkey Bizness, families can amuse themselves at Wiregrass while they wait,” she adds.
The busiest day at Monkey Bizness to date is Wednesday, when The mall features “Wiregrass Wednesdays,” with free kids’ club activities from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. If you would like to visit the new play center when open play is less crowded, Kristin advises to stop by between 9 a.m.-10 a.m. or after 2 p.m. You might note that Monkey Bizness is only open 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday & Sunday because the facility closes for private parties from noon till 5 p.m. on weekends.
For information about party packages – Monkey Bizness offers five different choices starting at $99 – or, for a schedule of hours or any additional information, call 388-2922 or visit MonkeyBizness.com. You also can visit “Monkey Bizness WesleyChapel” on Facebook for special promotional offers. Monkey Bizness is located at 28329 Paseo Drive, Suite 160, next to Barnie’s Coffee & Dillard’s in the Shops at Wiregrass.