Raleigh, N.C. — As a mom of three kids under age seven, I love an indoor play space we can visit that keeps my kids entertained, corralled and doesn’t involve toys exploding all over our own house.
This is especially helpful during pollen season, cold and rainy January weekends, and the blistering summer heat of North Carolina.
I recently checked out Alara and Zane in North Hills with my two daughters and our neighbors. One-half of this bright, sunny space is an upscale retail store. It offers adorable clothes for kids and unique toys that inspire kids to be creative.
The other half of the space is all for creative playtime. It’s designed for newborns and children through age eight. There are four main spaces for kids to enjoy: the large open front room with a twisty slide, reading nook, baby play area, snack bar, and bench seating; an art room; a “make-believe” room as I would call it with dress-up outfits and a play kitchen; plus a room upstairs with colorful wooden toys that allows kids to make up their own games.
Owner Sanaa Alyemeni says she wanted to create a space where families could come together outside of their home, but still feel at home. She also regularly switches out toys to keep the space fresh for returning families.
As a mom and business owner, I love checking out all the small details. You can always tell when a mom of young children has designed a space for other moms. Alara and Zane has a nursing area with a glider and changing table. There are two bathrooms that have a special seat to hold your toddler so you can actually use the bathroom yourself without having to also hold on to your toddler (moms…y’all know what I’m talking about).
While there are separate playrooms, each one has a creative window or cutout so that moms can easily keep an eye on their children from each space.
Many of the toys are made of wood and don’t include a lot of bells and whistles. I love that each item set out really invites the children to come up with their own ideas.
Perhaps my favorite moment was watching my oh-so-charming four-year-old daughter ask one of the staff members to read her a book. They sat together and read “When God Made You.” The smile on her face was everything. Behind them was a sign on the wall that said “We are all family.” And we really did feel right at home.
About the Owner:
Sanaa Alyemeni opened Alara and Zane (named after her children) in June of 2020.
Q: What were your first thoughts when the world shut down and how it would affect your launch?
A: Our construction ended in March right as the world was shutting down. I stayed pretty positive at first. I thought to myself, this will be a nice couple of months with the kids and everything will be back to normal in the summer. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. Our big grand opening event wasn’t possible, and advertising about our space was nearly impossible since no one was really looking to gather indoors with the public. It was certainly challenging and still is, to get through and recover from the constraints COVID caused.
Q: What has been your proudest moment so far?
A: A conversation I had with the grandfather of the birthday girl at her party last month. Just the genuine awe he had of the place, the confidence he had in the success of the store, and some insight he briefly shared was very uplifting. It’s been a challenging year full of emotions! Hearing such kind words really makes running Alara+Zane even more special.
Q: What do you want your kids to learn as they watch you run your own business?
I want them to gain confidence in themselves and their abilities. I want them to learn how to persevere through challenges and to not be afraid of thinking outside of the box. I think most importantly I want them to learn to balance their time as that can be so difficult as an entrepreneur. It’s so important to not lose sight of little family moments, spontaneous game nights, completely unplugging, keeping up with friendships, and having time for yourself.
Things to know:
You can purchase a time to play online. The first child is $15, siblings are $10, and children six months and younger are free. Alara and Zane also offers memberships.
As of June 2021, masks are required for anyone age five and older.
The play area is a sock-only zone. They have lockers where you can keep your shoes and purse too!
Parking: Alara and Zane is located in the newer section of North Hills. There may be street parking, but you will most likely find a parking space in one of the many parking garages and it’s a short walk.
Tara Lynn is the mom of three. She is a visual storyteller for pets, people and professionals through her photography business, InBetween the Blinks. She also helps moms create and creatively capture a life filled with moments that matter through the Memory Makers Club. Find Tara on Instagram: instagram.com/taralynn_andco