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Mall opens kids' space so parents can shop

Two moms who have braved shopping with small children open a drop-in child care center at WestShore Plaza.

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 5, 2002

Shopping with children is nearly impossible, says Julie Banks, mother of three.

"They grab at clothes racks and get really cranky," she said.

The former elementary school teacher and her neighbor Emily Brushwood, also a former teacher, were looking for a way to spend time with their children while exercising their educational expertise.

"We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to drop your kids off in the mall and go shopping for an hour?' " said Banks, 38.

Parents now have that option with a newly opened child care center in WestShore Plaza -- Playtime at WestShore.

The duo transformed a storefront into a brightly colored playroom where children 10 and younger can watch a movie, play dress up, stack foam blocks, finger paint or stage puppet shows.

Older kids find board games while little ones explore Toddlerville, a separate area featuring large toys and one-on-one care.

"We're moms, too," Banks said. "We just want parents to feel comfortable."

Shopping or dining moms carry beepers with 10-mile ranges, ensuring contact even in the most remote dressing room, Banks said.

Kids wear large stickers with a parent's name and beeper number, in the event of emergency. And a waist-high locked door keeps children in and unauthorized visitors out.

Operators say they employ certified teachers or college students studying education and maintain a high teacher-to-child ratio.

"These measures give parents peace of mind," said Brushwood, 25, a former alternative education teacher employed by Hillsborough's school district.

Dionne Plantamura's daughter Maya, 2, was among those at play.

"She gets tired of being in the dressing room and tired of being in a stroller," said Plantamura, 35.

Without the help, Plantamura might continue to shop online, as she has done since Maya's birth.

"It's just too difficult to go to a mall," says the stay-at-home mom.

She dropped Maya off at Playtime at WestShore for the first time last week and says it was a great experience.

"I got so much done," she says. "My husband and a I are going to go the movies next week."

Children can stay up to four hours per day. Story time, arts and crafts and after-school homework can make the child care fruitful.

"This is the first time I've left Alec with someone I didn't know," said Cari Griesi, 38.

She and neighbor Cheryl Howard dropped off their toddler boys and shopped for an hour. They heard about the child care center from friends.

"We'll be back," said Griesi. She lives in North Tampa and came to the WestShore Plaza just to try out the by-the-hour child care.

Playtime at Westshore, located near Sears, is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Reservations are not required and the cost is $7 per hour for one child or $5 per hour per child for families with two or more children.

Call 289-PLAY for information or view the schedule of activities at

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