In 2007, Karen Reider's job with BMW Financial Services took her from Columbus to New Jersey.
Shortly after the move, Reider's spouse developed a rare tumor. A year and a half later, Reider was alone with her two sons, Koen Daniel, now 3, and 5-year-old Aiden Joseph. Adrift, as anyone would be following 18 months of some hope and some despair about her partner's chances for survival, only to have all hopes dashed, Reider quit her job and took the boys on a yearlong road trip around the country.
They spent a great deal of time outdoors, finding solace in nature. They avoided the garish Chuck E. Cheese and McDonald's play areas.
The journey took the single mom and her sons to Studio City, Calif., where they chanced to stop at a place called the Coop, a play and party space for children AND adults.
"Juliet Boydstun and Lucinda Lent, the founders of the Coop, were friends for many years before they had kids," according to the operation's website. "They hung out in cool places, had interesting conversations and wore high heels. Then Juliet had a baby, then Lucinda, and one more for each quickly followed. No more cool coffee houses or leisurely lunches for the two, who traded in their heels for - fabulous, of course - flats. But their new 'hangouts' were uninspired and dull, windowless play spaces overrun with junkie toys and cutesy murals. Not content to accept this fate, the ladies came up with the concept of the Coop, a cool, modern play space for kids that doesn't forget the adults desire to be in a space that caters to them as well ..."
"I was struck someone had finally taken the world of child and adult and mixed them together," Reider said.
Then she had another thought"
"Columbus needs this."
Columbus now has it.
Firefly Play Cafe opened earlier this month at 4822 N. High St.
Reider, who lives on the West Side but plans to move to Clintonville, started the operation with business partner Chrissy Kilroe, a German Village resident whose full-time job is assistant coach with the Ohio State University field hockey team.
Kilroe, who was recruited to play field hockey at OSU from her native Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in 1997, vividly remembers the call she got from longtime friend Reider after the visit to the Coop.
"I found it! I found it! I found out what I want to do," Kilroe said Reider told her.
It seemed to Kilroe a good thing to do, too. She couldn't count the number of times she attempted to sit down for some conversation with Reider, only to have Koen and Aiden climbing all over her or their mom, demanding attention as children tend to do.
"For me, I don't have kids or anything, but having friends who do, they have busy days full of kids and it's hard to find the time to keep connected to them," Kilroe said last week from her native Calgary, where she was visiting family. "Having a place like this would allow others to stay connected with their friends who have kids, don't have kids, and have coffee while the kids have fun."
Reider, a native of Cincinnati, came to Ohio State University to study human development and family science with an eye toward possibly becoming a marriage counselor or working with young children. Eight years ago, she took what she anticipated would be a temporary job with BMW Financial Services, only to have it turn into a career that was interrupted by the death of her spouse.
Following the Coop experience, after the "I found out what I want to do" moment, Reider said that she spent some time visiting other similar operations in different parts of the country, finding some things that were worth emulating and other things that weren't.
The ones that had the most toys, the most garish colors, the most electronic distractions were the ones that bored her boys the quickest, Reider said, while the ones that kept things simple kept their focus the longest.
The idea of Firefly Play Cafe is to provide a place where moms, primarily, can come to read a magazine or visit with friends over coffee or tea while their children play in a safe environment that's intended to stimulate their minds, not restrict them.
"Nothing that uses a battery," is Reider's motto.
During the time a "Coming Soon" sign was on the two-year-old commercial space that had yet to be occupied, Reider said various sales people stopped trying to peddle televisions. They went away with a firm "no" and, Reider thinks, the conviction that the woman opening this new business was a bit touched in the head.
Reider doesn't think so, and neither does business partner Kilroe, who works more behind the scenes while Reider runs the caf on a day-to-day basis.
"It's very calming for the parent or the adult who takes children there," Kilroe said.
Firefly Play Caf is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is free to anyone with a child under 2. For children older than that and their accompanying adult, the fee is $5 for however long they care to stay. The space is available for private birthday parties outside of those hours, according to Reider.
Laurel Feigley, who recently moved to Clintonville from New Jersey, was in attendance at the cafe last week with daughter Isla, who is just under 2 years old. She said that she'd taken Isla to a similar play space back in the Garden State.
"I was definitely on the lookout for something like that here," said Feigley, who lives within walking distance of Firefly and learned about it from another mother she just met.
Isla certainly enjoys her visits to the cafe, so it's a break for both of them, her mom said.
"It's novel to her," Feigley said. "She can interact with the things here, the children here, which gives me a break. It also gives me the opportunity to meet other people. I would really recommend it for new mothers."
A family therapist, Feigley said that she feels new moms interacting with one another can really help them deal with post-partum depression.
"Everybody's real excited," Kilroe said. "They love it. They think it's a great idea. Anyone who has kids can't wait to bring their kids in. People who don't have kids want to have kids so they can come in."