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Sunday, December 3, 2023
Dec. 3, 2023

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City Play for Kids in east Vancouver provides fun space for children

New business was inspired by late Portland Children’s Museum

By , Columbian staff writer
5 Photos
Owners Greg, left, and Laura Silva stand for a portrait at their new east Vancouver business, City Play for Kids.
Owners Greg, left, and Laura Silva stand for a portrait at their new east Vancouver business, City Play for Kids. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Walking through the door at east Vancouver’s City Play for Kids on a smoky August day, I was greeted with a smile from the business’s owners. They hustled to open the baby gate just past the entrance desk. (They did this for everyone.)

Along the wall was a cube shelf for shoes and bags. And before me was a space reminiscent of Portland’s now-defunct children’s museum. It’s not a coincidence. The owners of City Play, at 16420 S.E. McGillivray Blvd., were inspired by the place that was a highlight in their own childhoods.

On this day, City Play was busy. Very busy.

“It has far exceeded our expectations so far,” said Laura Silva, who co-owns City Play with her husband. “And we’re not even in the rainy season yet.”

To my right stood an indoor play structure with blocks and building materials just beyond that. To my left were tables, neatly lined with children’s toys where parents and their kids sat and played.

As I walked farther back into the space, more and more children appeared in small rooms — a little house, a grocery store, a fire station, a café and a gas station. Each had child-size furniture and accessories for play.

“It’s been super fulfilling to have something like this for Vancouver,” Laura Silva said.

Amanda Peterson brought her 1-year-old son from Hockinson to play.

“Obviously by the amount of people that are here, it was needed,” said Peterson. She said the place provides “something for the kids to do, especially on a rainy day.”

Christina Rehfeldt from Washougal said it was her second time at City Play.

“My girls love it,” said Rehfeldt, who has a 4-year-old and nannies a 3-year-old.

“It was definitely needed, especially since we don’t have that many indoor play places,” she added.

When COVID happened and the Portland Children’s Museum closed, the Silvas were looking for a small-scale place to take their kids. They wanted someplace clean and closer to their Vancouver home.

So when rain began pelting the area last fall making outdoor parks unappealing, the couple started jotting down some ideas for their own play place. Then they worked through the numbers.

“It was like this running joke,” Laura Silva said. Then they wrote a business plan and got a loan. Finally, the couple asked themselves, “Are we going to do this?” (They did.)

Greg Silva ran a home remodeling business for more than seven years.

“The work-life balance was really hard with that,” he said. “I wanted to see my kids a little more.”

His skills came in handy with the new project. Laura Silva had the measurements for the play stations and Greg Silva built nearly everything.

“It’s kind of a perfect fit for me,” Greg Silva said. His wife has a full-time job outside City Play, but Greg Silva is there to greet guests and run the operation every day.

“It’s just amazing,” he said.

The shop is just a few minutes away from their east Vancouver home. Gone are the days when they would need to plan a four-hour trip to Oregon just to go somewhere their kids could play for an hour and a half.

City Play is open seven days a week for drop-in, 90-minute playtime. It also opens early at 8 a.m., inspired by the couple’s own children waking up in the wee hours of the morning.

“I know parents need it,” Greg Silva said.

The business opened just last month. And still, it’s been busy with a steady flow of families coming every day. There have even been a handful of days where there’s been a wait to get in. But with admissions lasting for 90 minutes, there’s been a good flow of people, Greg Silva assured.

Admission to City Play is $15 for 90 minutes, with different admission packages available for siblings or multiple visits. Birthday party slots are also available on weekday evenings and weekend afternoons and evenings.

The couple are trying to hire more staff to extend their hours and they’re contemplating a second location in west Vancouver.

While the Silvas wanted to cater to Vancouver, Laura Silva said families have come from Portland and Woodland, too.

She is happy to see City Play being a place for kids to have birthday parties and events.

“It can be a special part of their childhood,” she said, reminiscing on how the Portland Children’s Museum was so special to her.

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