By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — If there was any question about Debbie Dow's move into a much larger space, it didn't take long for an answer. Since opening on March 1 at its new location, 40 Meredith Center Road, the Imaginarium has already come close to its maximum occupancy of 50 children and their parents.
Dow started the Imaginarium three years ago in a basement unit of the Harbor Square plaza in Moultonborough. A mother of young children, she was inspired to open a business that offers a counterpoint to Funspot, the only other indoor place in the region where parents can take their kids to blow off some steam. Where Funspot is filled with arcade games, Dow wanted her business to provide nothing but unplugged, mindful, imaginative play – no batteries or power cords required.
The concept was a hit with other like-minded parents. Her space in Moultonborough was small, and she started having to turn people away because she was filled to capacity. So, when the Lakeland School's K-8 space became available, she approached the building owners and asked if she could rent it. The building on Meredith Center Road has about three times the space of her previous location, as well as lots of natural light.
"We outgrew our space, and the opportunity to have an outside playground, plenty of space. It's obviously a huge opportunity to grow," she said.
The Imaginarium, which features three rooms full of low-tech toys and a place for eating lunches, offers open play sessions from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Dow, with the help of a part-time employee, also has cooking and art classes, a children's choir, music lessons and will rent the space for birthday parties.
Dow finds that her greatest challenge in growing the business has been finding the balance between operating her business and staying home for her own children's benefit. She finds it hard to say "no" to a new idea for her business, especially when she sees the kind of response she's received since opening in her new location.
"I have three kids of my own, I could see how technology was warping their brains. I wanted a place for families to get together," she said. "I've always wanted to do this, having a response like this is really exciting."
What happened to the Lakeland School?
The kindergarten through eighth grade of the Lakeland School didn't open this year. Karen Tardif, director of the Lakeland School preschool program, which continues to operate at the site, said that one of the teachers of the upper school was poised to purchase the private school and operate it for the 2016-2017 school year, when personal circumstances suddenly arose which prevented her from doing so.
The Lakeland School, which tailors a curriculum for each student, had about 35 students in its upper grades last year. Tardif said she was trying to figure out how she could keep the school operating, when Dow approached her about renting the space.
"It seemed like her goals and our goals fit together so nicely, we decided to go ahead with the rental," said Tardif.
Debbie Dow, owner of the Imaginarium, plays veterinarian with Hunter Stanley, of Belmont, and Claire Marshall of Gilford. The Imaginarium, which was opened three years ago in Moultonborough, moved to Meredith this month. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
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