Kid fun: New biz offers indoor options

Just in time for the holidays, a new business hopes to turn Water Street to whines. That's actually good news for parents who are looking for indoor– but out-of-the-house– activities for their preschoolers.

On Saturday, December 11, Staci and Robin Macklin opened Wee-ville, a multi-faceted kid-friendly retail store and indoor playspace in the former Lush Life space.

In addition to a line of plush animals called Noukies and various baby accessories and clothes, Wee-ville is Charlottesville's only vendor of MacLaren strollers– the type pushed by a variety of celeb moms including Elizabeth Hurley and Victoria Beckham.

The Macklins, who have a two-year-old daughter, Jesse, moved down from Brooklyn, New York, a year ago. Staci, a former elementary school teacher and lawyer, says she was inspired to create the business by two of her favorite Brooklyn kid hangouts that combined retail, play, and café elements.

The pair turned to sculptor and architect Aaron Fein, perhaps most famous for creating "Transformer," the mesh-like ArtinPlace sculpture that was vandalized three years ago on the Route 250 Bypass. Here, Fein designed a two-level play area, mimicking a Brooklyn brownstone. The bottom level is a play store and a library, while the upper level holds a doll bedroom and toy kitchen.

Wee-ville will also offer various kid- and new-mom classes. And come February, says Staci, they'll add a full service café to the mix.

"We're interested in healthy kid foods," says Staci. "There won't be anything fried."

The Macklins are not the first business to offer parents a spot to sit and sip while children play– C'ville Coffee in the Allied Business Park on McIntire Road pioneered the concept back in 2000 to became an instant hit among the stay-at-home mom (and dad) set.

But not every kid biz thrives. The Village Playhouse, which opened in 2001 in the Glass Building on Second Street, closed in August. The phone number has been disconnected, and the owner, James Burton, could not be reached by press time. However, the website ( promises it will reopen in a new location in January 2005.

Even when it does return, the Macklins say they won't be worried– there's plenty of demand for kid-friendly businesses. And, they add, they're not competing directly with C'ville Coffee. The locations are far enough apart, says Robin. And, Staci adds, the Wee-ville play area is not secondary to the business.

While C'ville Coffee offers its toy corner as a free bonus to its customers, Wee-ville charges its guests. Parents will pay $3 for one child, and an additional $1.50 for subsequent kids. An unlimited annual membership costs $80. The money, says Staci, ensures the toys will always be well stocked, clean, and replaced when broken.

C'ville Coffee founder Toan Nguyen says he's happy to see another business catering to parents: "It's nice to have variety."

Peppy Linden, director of the Virginia Discovery Museum, is also welcoming.

"The more there is for kids to do, the better," she says. And what's good for one business is good for the whole area. "People like choices," she adds. "It brings people downtown."

Kim Kuttner agrees. Her new and consignment children's clothing store, Petit Bebé, opened in late November next door to Wee-ville, and while Kuttner says it might appear that she and Wee-ville will compete, that's not the case. She specializes in reasonably priced European clothes– a mix of new and consignments– and the influx of moms and babies, she believes, will benefit all the businesses on Water Street.

"We can all work together," she says.

It remains to be seen whether Wee-ville will be an instant hit, but if Jane McBrian is any example, it seems likely. An Earlysville resident, McBrian heard about Wee-ville from a friend and within days had brought her two-year-old and six-week-old daughters down Route 29 to check it out.

"It's great," she says. "I'm very happy to have found it."

Staci Macklin, with daughter Jesse, opened Wee-ville on Water Street with her husband, Robin.

A full-service café will be added to the play space in February.