By Carissa Collins
Gordon College News Service
February 26, 2014
(This story appeared in the Beverly Citizen, and March 12, 2104 in the print/online editions of the Salem News.)
BEVERLY, MA— Last fall, Charae D’Ambra had a Eureka moment as she drove past the property at 81 Bridge Street. Ever since trading her career in pediatrics for the full time job of parenting, D’Ambra had searched for a place where children could play in safety and warmth all year round. Her search came up empty—that is, until D’Ambra drove down Bridge Street and realized she could build it herself.
“There was nowhere to go that was warm, safe and enjoyable for parents (to take their kids),” D’Ambra said. So when D’Ambra had the idea for an indoor playground and cafe, her husband encouraged her to, “Go for it, honey!”
Today, D’Ambra’s dream—The Children’s Piazza—sits near the corner of Elliot and Bridge Street and celebrated its grand opening February 7th. The timing was perfect for parents of toddlers and infants as Massachusetts experiences one of its heaviest winters.
The indoor play area offers two large cedar playscapes inside the soft, sage-painted space. Moms and dads can relax at café tables and socialize while watching their children. Toddlers are free to run and explore the Piazza, including smaller rooms housing play kitchens, train tables and a miniature ball pit. A quieter, enclosed area lies on the far side of the Piazza, filled with soft toys and climbing spaces for infants.
“Once I stopped being a pediatrician and became a stay-at-home mom, I felt like I had free space in my head,” said D’Ambra. She wanted to continue helping children and their families on the North Shore, and the Piazza was born.
The Piazza itself is a collage of local flavor and support. The walls of the play area are hung with photography from Salem artist, Julie Freitas. The cedar playscapes are special-ordered from Maine. And 10 percent of the Piazza’s profits go to local non-profits like Beverly Bootstraps and Amirah Boston, a non-profit offering care for women coming out of human trafficking.
Through the process of growing as a business, The Children’s Piazza seems to have found its spot in the Beverly community. Its mission has certainly struck a cord with locals.
“A parent said to me the other day: ‘Is this a mirage or is this real life?’” said D’Ambra. “The reception has been incredible.”
Jill Settles, resident of Beverly for 12 years, who lives around the corner from the Piazza agrees. Settles brought her three-year-old daughter, Mia, to the first play session for the Piazza’s grand opening and has returned often.
“This is a clean, warm and cozy place,” Settles said. “Winters here are long. This is a great chance for the families of Rial Side to get out of the house.”
Mia added that she especially loves the ball pit.
The Children’s Piazza, located at 81 Bridge Street, Beverly, MA, provides open play passes at $9 per child, with discounts available for 10-visits or 30-day passes. Call (978) 712-0284 or visit TheChildrensPiazza.com for more information.