BEVERLY — Charae D’Ambra had a Eureka moment last fall as she drove past an empty building in Ryal Side.
Ever since trading her career as a pediatric nurse-practitioner for the full-time job of parenting, D’Ambra had searched for a place where children could play year-round in safety and warmth. Her search came up empty — until she 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 she broached the idea of creating an indoor playground and cafe to her husband, he encouraged her to “Go for it, honey!”
Today, D’Ambra’s dream, The Children’s Piazza, sits near the corner of Elliott and Bridge streets. It celebrated its grand opening in February — perfect timing for parents of toddlers and preschoolers cooped up at home during one of the area’s coldest winters.
The indoor play area offers two large, cedar playsets with slides and climbing structures inside a soft, sage-painted space. Moms and dads can relax at cafe tables and socialize while watching their children. Toddlers are free to run and explore, including smaller rooms housing play kitchens, train tables and a miniature ball pit filled with brightly colored plastic balls.
A quieter, enclosed area lies on the far side of the piazza, filled with soft toys and climbing spaces for babies. And there’s a crafts room, where preschoolers can create artwork.
The cafe sells coffee and tea, baked goods and organic snacks for kids.
The business is a collage of local flavor and support. The walls of the play area are hung with photographs from Salem artist Julie Freitas. The wooden playscapes are special-ordered from CedarWorks in Maine. And 10 percent of the Piazza’s profits go to local nonprofits like Beverly Bootstraps and Amirah Boston, a nonprofit offering care for women coming out of human trafficking.