By Georgia Suter
“I had thought about this idea a couple years ago,” says Scott Rubenstein, owner of East Hampton Indoor Tennis and inventor of the ever-growing child care play space at the facility, Hampton Kids. “Just hearing parents on the weekends that wanted to be able to play tennis. I heard one parent talking about possibly dropping their kids off at Chucky Cheeses, up the Island, just to have somewhere for them to go and be active. There was definitely a need for it.”
Hampton Kids at the Indoor Tennis center is running seven days a week, located directly across the street from the courts. Children mostly under the age of 12 are dropped off, normally staying for 45 minutes up to two hours.
“It’s a forgotten group,” remarks Rubenstein. When the weekend rolls around and parents want to get a couple matches in, the center provides a place for these youngsters to be safe and entertained.
As far as entertainment, the space is equipped with every child’s fantasy.
“We have a bouncy castle with a slide and seven arcade games, where the kids get tokens. For our winter program, we had arts and crafts classes, we designed bags and made monkey bread — we’re doing special activities all the time,” says Susana Kusanovic, the pro shop manager of the tennis club and co-director of Hamptons Kids.
“There’s an X box computer lounge where one can play WII, Nintendo, soccer and sporting events,” notes Rubenstein.
Parents, meanwhile, can get some activity of their own. “We have parents that are dropping kids off so they can play tennis for two hours.” For those that aren’t hitting balls, the building encompasses an upstairs and downstairs lounge with Wi-Fi. “Parents can also relax or go online and do work and enjoy complimentary tea, coffee and hot chocolate,” says Rubenstein.
The program is growing every day. “The busiest time for Hamptons Kids so far has been over the holidays,” Rubenstein notes. “We’ve had a phenomenal response to our winter programs. The kids eat lunch then go to the tennis club and play. There was one day when we had over 100 kids over the course of the day. Last weekend we had five birthday parties in one day.”
The success of the program is visibly apparent from the attendees themselves, who often bemoan their departure. “The best promotion I get is when the kids are leaving the building and they’re crying.”
“We even have parents now that are coming because they’re kids are so eager to stop by. So they’ll stop by for ten minutes and go on the jumpy house and slide. We even have 10 and 15 month year olds who know exactly what games they prefer when they arrive.”
“We have a variety of memberships,” says Susana Kusanovic, who hired Tara Kochanskyj, a teacher at Hampton Bays Elementary School, as a co-director. The variety includes single and family memberships and if a child comes in for the day and wants to take a class, there’s an option of paying between $5 and $20 for the day instead of buying a full membership. After-school and drop-in day care are also available.
When asked about the supervisors, and whether they’re babysitters or tennis pros with some extra time, Rubenstein is quick to note that all of the staff are actual babysitters with lots of investment in the overall experience.
“We have a most wonderful staff. We have several young high school kids and college students that are babysitters, and Tara and Susana, our program directors. My staff will even come in once a while and play X box together, or take a turn on the ‘bounce house’.”
“They’re incredibly creative, always thinking forward. They continue to ask parents, ‘what do you want? what are we missing?’ It’s always exciting, never stale,” Rubenstein remarks. “I’ve never heard a parent say anything negative about it.”
Another component of the whole program that has proved to be popular are the birthday parties. Taking over the hassle involved in throwing a kids party, and perhaps also protecting numerous living rooms, the center will organize the entire festivity — as Rubenstein says, “the parents don’t do anything. We get the cake, the food, the magician, the invitations. And they can choose a theme — we’ve had a karate party, a yoga party, a pottery party, even a karaoke party.”
“The kids get stickers when they do well, and then they can get prizes with them. And then you watch the kids over time and see that they’re learning that they can save their tickets for bigger prizes — like the guitar, for example.”
As kids begin to return again and again, Rubenstein notices that they’re definitely learning how to make the best of their anticipated drop off.