Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times                                Kara Pelzel, 3, and Ethan Boswell, 4, toil away in the kitchen space at Oak Harbor Playtown.

Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times Kara Pelzel, 3, and Ethan Boswell, 4, toil away in the kitchen space at Oak Harbor Playtown.

Playtown opens for city’s littlest residents

Last Thursday afternoon, Ethan Boswell busily hammered away, wearing a fluorescent orange construction vest. Nearby, Nathanial Mildener methodically filled his shopping cart. The boys are 4 years old and 15 months respectively and were going about their days in a miniature town, perfect for people of shorter stature.

Gabby Schiller opened Oak Harbor Playtown on Jan. 4, and the business has already surpassed 1,000 visits, she said. She is a Navy spouse and mother of three children under the age of 12.

“I got tired of waiting for a place like this,” Schiller said.

Playtown, located on Northeast Midway Boulevard, includes a little grocery store, doctor’s office, police station, gym, soda shop and library. Upstairs, there are three bounce houses.

“He thinks this is his,” Ethan Boswell’s mother Corin Boswell said, after he changed from a construction outfit into a doctor’s lab coat. “It’s his size.”

The family has been to Playtown nearly 10 times since it opened earlier this month. She said it provides a large and imaginative space to play when the weather isn’t great and a chance to “get out of the living room.” The coffee that’s available on-site also keeps her coming back, she said with a laugh.

Schiller describes the business as “drop in, not drop off,” meaning caregivers are required to stay with and keep an eye on the children they bring.

To make their stay more enjoyable, Schiller teamed up with Espresso Self Catering owner Megan Donaldson.

Donaldson had been catering local events since last March, but the partnership with Schiller has allowed her to run her first brick-and-mortar setup. Those who rent Playtown’s space may also enlist Donaldson’s services for unlimited coffee and Italian sodas at parties.

Schiller performed her market research by reaching out to local Whidbey Facebook groups explaining her idea and offering people a chance to participate. She received more than 400 responses, she said.

The two main priorities she gleaned from the process were cleanliness and caffeine.

There’s also free wifi, but Schiller encourages everyone to “unplug and play.” A room is set aside for quiet time or breastfeeding, complete with glider chairs.

Schiller had been in the medical field for years before leaving because of her frustration with what she saw as an inability to help people on a more personal level. After putting in her notice at her old job, she quickly set her sights on creating a clean and safe place for young children to play.

Her husband, who is currently deployed, has a business degree but Schiller herself had little experience. She joined the SCORE business mentorship program, which offers free mentoring and education from retired business executives, and buried herself in research. The website entrepreneur.com became one of her most-visited sites, she said with a laugh.

Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times                                Nathanial Mildener, 15 months, stays busy at Oak Harbor Playtown.

Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times Nathanial Mildener, 15 months, stays busy at Oak Harbor Playtown.

The inspiration for the tiny town concept came after going to a similar establishment while visiting relatives out of state, she said.

“I immediately thought, ‘Oak Harbor needs this,’” Schiller said. “We need it. I’m going to do it.”

She signed the lease on the Midway space on Dec. 13. She and a contractor hand-made and painted each little storefront, with rounded and sanded edges. Each piece of the tiny town is made for small children, but the roofs are open to allow grownups to join the fun without having to hunch.

Parents are also invited to join $5 regularly held classes at Playtown, such as mommy and me yoga and art . Members may attend three free classes.

The daily rate at Playtown is $10 for the first child and $9 for each additional kid. After 2 p.m., the rate is $5 per child. Members may visit as often as they’d like for $40 a month for one child, $50 for two and $60 for three or more.

The whole space may be reserved for parties and events as well.

Playtown is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12-5 p.m. on Sundays, unless it’s closed for a party.

The experience has been a bit of a whirlwind, Schiller said.

Her new business came together so quickly, the flooring wasn’t even installed until the night before opening day, Schiller said.

“But we did it,” she said.

More in Life

Members of the public and Whidbey Island Rocks are encouraged to paint and hide stones with Garry oak designs or other local flora and fauna this week in preparation for a hunt Saturday. Photo by Jane Geddes
Island rock hunt celebrates Oak Harbor ‘Year of the Oak’

Whidbey Island Rocks is encouraging people to paint stones with Garry oaks before a hunt Saturday.

Photo provided
The Deception Pass Sail and Power Squadron, also known as America’s Boating Club of Deception Pass, hosts jamborees and other social events, along with boater safety and education classes.
Whidbey boaters promote safety, education

The Deception Pass Sail and Power Squadron hosts education and safety classes, and social events.

Michael Nichols, owner of Whidbey Green Goods, stands in his hoop house, also known as “The Hovel.” Customers visit the Clinton farm to pick up their own produce and plant starts. (Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group)
One-man Whidbey Island farm gears up for spring

The pandemic has brought a longtime farmer out of retirement.

Master Gardener Don Krafft gathers some broccoli in his garden plot at South Whidbey Tilth. He grows several things that are available for purchase at the Island County Master Gardener online plant sale. (Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record)
Master Gardeners kick off plant sale, continue clincs

Green thumbs who have had a taste of spring sunshine and want to begin planting can do so with the help of the Island County Master Gardeners.

Photo provided
Stella Rowan, left, Savannah Mounce and Luna Grove, right, get together for swims and photoshoots like this one at Deception Pass State Park. The trio of two mermaids and a self-described “heavy metal selkie” call themselves the Whidbey Island Sirens.
Whidbey Island Sirens making quite a splash

The trio will be at Windjammer Park in Oak Harbor this Saturday.

Frances Schultz, holding a picture of her younger self, recently turned 100 years old. Her daughter, Connie Van Dyke, right, said her mother’s photo looks like one of actress Barbara Stanwyck. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
At 100, Oak Harbor woman reflects on busy life

Frances Schultz turned 100 years old on March 30.

Joel Atienza’s uniform’s USAF/USSF patches prior to transfer. Photo provided
Oak Harbor 2010 grad selected for U.S. Space Force

Joel Atienza’s advice to Space Force hopefuls? “Remember, ‘The sky is not the limit.’”

The Oystercatcher’s owner and chef, Tyler Hansen, prepares a dozen 3 Sisters beef bolognese lasagnas to go on the shelves at 3 Sisters Market. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Chef liaises with other business owners

A Coupeville chef has expanded his partnership with local business owners to… Continue reading

Joe Gunn holding a freshly backed rhubarb pie. (Photo by Harry Anderson)
How a pie on the Rock became a brand and legend

Whidbey Pies is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

Color Guard Capt. Mike Hutchins, at left, and John Kraft present the Sons of the American Revolution Bronze Good Citizenship Medal to Bobbi Lornson, center. (Photo by Teresa Addison)
Oak Harbor woman awarded ‘Good Citizenship’ medal

Bobbi Lornson, past president of the Oak Harbor Lions Club president and volunteer, was recently recognized for her contributions to the community.

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop in Langley, hangs a purple neon star he made on the wall of his arcade. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
Neon art show colorizes Machine Shop’s reopening

A cacophony of happy buzzers and bells and a riot of glowing… Continue reading

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Third grader Laszlo McDowell gets up close and personal with a gray whale skull.
Students learn about being ‘whale-wise’

South Whidbey Elementary School students got a taste of what it would be like to live as gray whales.