Little Village Play Cafe in Wauwatosa aims to be destination for young children, parents alike

Rendering of The Little Village Play Cafe. Credit: Dan Beyer Architects

A new play cafe coming to Wauwatosa this fall will tap into the growing market of parents who want to keep their young children busy while also enjoying some time to themselves.

Slated to open between late September and early October at 6505 W. North Ave., The Little Village Play Cafe will feature a designated play area with toys and play-based activities for children ages 0 to 6 as well a cafe with a full espresso bar and free wifi.

Owner Abi Gilman, herself a mother of two (and one on the way), wants the 3,700-square-foot space to be a “one-stop shop” for young families like hers.

She and her husband Spencer are among many parents in their East Tosa neighborhood raising children in smaller-sized houses that may not have a lot of extra space for kids to run around or for hosting play dates and birthday parties. The play cafe concept is popular in Europe and in major cities on the east and west coasts where living quarters are generally tighter. There are a couple of other play cafes across the greater Milwaukee area, but Little Village is Wauwatosa’s first.

“I wanted to find a location that was near people who didn’t necessarily have huge yards or huge houses for entertaining and was this bigger space that they could go to and feel like they were at home and near home but able to spread out and see something different than their four walls,” said Gilman.

Unlike other play cafe concepts, the cafe area at Little Village Play Cafe will be open to the public. In other words, you don’t have to be a parent or bring your child to purchase a cup of coffee and sit down at a table. The open play area will take over the remaining three quarters of the space and, for safety and security purposes, will be separated from the cafe by a half wall. Parents are still be responsible for supervising their children, whether that’s from a seat at the cafe or next to them within the play area.

“It was important to me that there’s a space that parents can go to relax and have a little bit of quiet time or personal time, maybe meet a friend who doesn’t have kids to have a coffee or talk while their kids are playing and entertained,” said Gilman.

Gilman started her career in digital marketing working for Laughlin Constable and then for Bon-Ton. She later took a remote job with global data analytics firm Dun & Bradstreet Corp., overseeing content strategies for a teaching editorial website called WeAreTeachers. Looking to travel less for work and spend more time with her family, Gillman joined Milwaukee-based fashion retailer Wantable in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That was a very challenging time in my career because I had this one-year-old at home, daycare was closed, I just started this high-stress job as the director of acquisition at a startup company. More than ever, people wanted their clothes and anything shipped to them, so it was a booming time for Wantable and very intense time in that role,” said Gilman.

She eventually stepped into a part-time position as brand communication manager. After that role was eliminated in a round of layoffs in March this year, Gilman took it as a sign to strike out on her own.

“I had never been laid off before so that was a little bit jarring, but I started my business plan right away,” she said. “I texted my husband and said, ‘I got laid off but I think I’m going to open a business.'”

Gilman had been thinking about the idea of a play cafe for a while. Coming out of the pandemic, she and her kids had spent time at play cafes Bug & Goose in Elm Grove and Little Sprouts in Mequon and Shorewood, but play times booked up so fast that reservations usually needed to be made weeks in advance. Gilman saw a need for more play cafes in the area.

“There’s demand for this,” she said. “In February, in the middle of winter, when parents of young kids are just so stir crazy in their houses, there’s not many places to go and sometimes you don’t have the luxury of booking something two weeks in advance. Sometimes you need something to do in an hour.”

The Little Village Play Cafe will be open to the public daily, with two open play sessions on weekdays and one open play session on weekends. The space will be available for event rentals on weekends.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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