Toy Store Turning its Yard into Neighborhood's Newest Play Space

By Amy Zimmer on March 19, 2014 7:24am 

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 Norman & Jules, on Seventh Avenue, will have book readings, play time and tot yoga starting May 26.
Norman & Jules Toy Shop to Build Play Space
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BROOKLYN — Park Slope's parents have been clamoring for more baby and toddler play spaces, story times and sing-a-longs.

That's why Courtney Ebner and her husband Avi Kravitz are turning the 800-square-foot backyard of their two-year-old Seventh Avenue toy store Norman & Jules into the area's newest community space for tots.

After customers kept asking about activities in their outdoor space, the couple launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $80,000 for a "magical event space" complete with a big play pit with giant foam blocks, Ebner said.

With a little more than a week left, the shop has only raised $8,000 but will still invest that money in sprucing up the space.

"Everything we gain fund-wise is going into the backyard. We want it to be awesome. But we're not getting to the $80,000. Let's be real," Ebner said.

"Basically, what it's going to end up being is a really beautiful backyard that you'd have in your home, which not many of us in this area have."

Starting May 26, the shop at 158 Seventh Ave. will host two-hour playtime sessions (10 a.m. to noon, cost: $12), book readings and play time (10 to 11 a.m., cost: $10) and tot yoga (4 to 5 p.m., cost: $12).  Ebner envisions mommy groups booking the space for get-togethers or birthday parties.  

She's also been talking to local musicians, like kid fave Suzi Shelton, who'll perform there on June 8.

"It's going to be very different from going to the park," Ebner said of the shady spot.

"It's going to be a very safe place. You won't have to be on edge like at J.J. Byrne Park, running around after your kids," she added, referring to the popular playground on Fifth Avenue and Third Street. "Sometimes you want something different. Sometimes you want something more developmental than climbing."

There won't be a block pit, but there will be non-toxic, LEED-certified turf covering the yard, complete with hills to roll down or sit on, and a "sensory" table with sand, water and pine cones where kids can work on sorting and fine motor development, Ebner said.

She and Kravitz opened their shop with a focus on creative play after exhaustively researching toys to help promote the growth and development of their daughter Charley, now 3, who was born several months prematurely.

Before Charley attended preschool, Ebner would take her to neighborhood tot activities, like sing-a-longs at Two Moon Café, the play space at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange and Spellbound Theatre's storytimes at Birthday Presence.

"I gained a lot of knowledge about what people were looking for," Ebner said. "The playtimes and book readings — I felt I could never find enough of that."

She still hopes the shop can revisit the Indigogo campaign — which raised money by selling discount gift cards and tickets to the future play space — to get funds for the block pit, a climbing beehive playhouse and a playhouse with slide.

"We'll just keep building upon it," she said of the yard. "Everyone is always looking for a great place to bring kids."

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