In one weekend last year, Mike Addabbo took his 3-year-old son to three different birthday parties at indoor bounce houses — all in Westchase. The only thing was, he lives in South Tampa.
“I spent two hours in the car for each one,” Addabbo said. “Then I asked all the parents there where they lived. South Tampa, South Tampa, South Tampa.” That was his eureka moment, and Addabbo went to work. Three weeks ago, he opened Playgrounds, a 10,000 square foot indoor bounce house space at 4535 S. Dale Mabry Highway, complete with a top-shelf coffee bar, lounge chairs and free WiFi. Most importantly, the space is heavily air conditioned.
Not that there’s anything wrong with other bounce house companies, Addabbo said. There is Gator Fred’s, Bounce House, AirHeads and others, and they’re fine, he said, but they’re also a long way from South Tampa — perhaps the area’s most densely packed pockets of affluent, stay-at-home moms who are looking for safe, indoor play areas, particularly in the peak of the Florida summer heat.
It’s a new kind of venture for Addabbo. He used to own and run a temporary staffing firm, but the headaches of recruiting and scheduling workers were taking their toll, and with new healthcare rules, he couldn’t grow much more without having to invest heavily in employee healthcare. After his three-birthday-party weekend last year, Addabbo decided it was time for a change. He leased out space in a South Tampa warehouse center that used to house a boxing gym, and he set to renovations. He redid the air conditioning, painted the walls, built out two birthday party rooms and bought a half dozen huge inflatable bounce houses. LIke other bounce houses, there is a substantial legal waiver to get in.
The front desk is also a coffee bar, supplied by Buddy Brew, and there are sandwiches made by Nature’s Table — to stalwart South Tampa brands. The main play area has 17 Ikea lounge chairs and an area for toddlers separated by a low, foam wall.
As for prices, Addabbo tries to keep costs at least in parity to similar sites around town. Play time for a kid 6 months old to 3 years old costs $6.95, 3-years-old and up $11.95 and siblings cost $6.95 each. Visit ten times, and the total cost drops to $100. For grownups, an espresso costs $2.50, iced coffees $3 and a Mediterranean Chicken wrap costs $7.
On a rainy Tuesday morning, the site was crowded with a dozen moms and at least two dozen kids, some on bounce houses, and a half dozen in a Nerf-gun playroom where kids can pop foam balls at each other.
“I’m only a few blocks away from home,” said Noelle Cairns, who had her 9-month-old and 2 year old playing in the area. “I love how you can sit down, have some nice coffee and relax. The bounce houses in Brandon are fine, but they’re so far away, and not this nice.”
The company’s next step is to build a business renting out bounce houses for birthday parties, and they’ve already acquired a big delivery van for it. If opening a playhouse wasn’t enough, Addabbo had more than that on his hands. The first day open to the public was Jan. 5. Three days later, his wife had a second baby.