BEVERLY — Last fall, Charae D’Ambra had a “eureka’’ moment as she drove past the property at 81 Bridge St.
Ever since trading her career in pediatrics for full-time parenting, D’Ambra had searched for a place where children could play in safety and warmth all year round. Her search came up empty — that is, until she saw the Bridge Street location 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 had the idea for an indoor playground and cafe, her husband encouraged her to “go for it, honey!’’
D’Ambra’s dream turned into the Children’s Piazza, which celebrated its grand opening near Bridge’s intersection with Elliot Street on Feb. 7. The timing was perfect for parents looking for ways to get their toddlers and infants through a particularly messy winter.
The indoor play area, painted in soft sage, offers two large cedar play structures. Moms and dads can relax at café tables and socialize while watching their children. Toddlers are free to run and explore the piazza, including smaller rooms equipped with play kitchens, train tables and a miniature ball pit.
A quieter, enclosed area is filled with soft toys and climbing spaces for infants.
“Once I stopped being a pediatrician and became a stay-at-home mom, I felt like I had free space in my head,” said D’Ambra. She wanted to continue helping children and their families on the North Shore, and the Children’s Piazza was born.
The space itself is a collage of local flavor and support. The walls of the play area feature photographs by Salem artist Julie Freitas. The cedar play equipment was made in Maine by special order. And 10 percent of the facility’s profits go to local nonprofits like Beverly Bootstraps and Amirah Boston, which helps women coming out of human trafficking.
Through the process of growing as a business, the Children’s Piazza seems to have found its spot in the Beverly community. Its mission has certainly struck a chord with residents.
“A parent said to me the other day: ‘Is this a mirage or is this real life?’” said D’Ambra. “The reception has been incredible.”
Jill Settles, a resident of Beverly for 12 years who lives around the corner from the Children’s Piazza in the city’s Ryal Side section, agrees. She brought her 3-year-old daughter, Mia, to the first play session at the grand opening and has returned often.
“This is a clean, warm and cozy place,” Settles said. “Winters here are long. This is a great chance for the families of Ryal Side to get out of the house.”
Mia added that she especially loves the ball pit.