“Mommy! Look at the big airplane!” Patrick, my 4-year-old says, lifting himself in his backseat booster in unison with the airplane taking flight beside us.
“Ug, ug!” Ty grunts excitedly as he points his toddler-sized finger at the train tooting down the track.
“I want to fly!” Patrick exclaims.
“Another day for trains and planes,” I say into the rear-view mirror. “Today it’s all about playing on the sandy beach.”
It might sound like we were heading off to an exotic locale . . . instead of the usual cruise through downtown Renton toward MLK onto Airport Way and our final destination Georgetown and a new place called The Sandbox.
I enjoy driving down Airport Way because there’s usually not much traffic, and the kids get all fired up about Boeing Field and the main lines of the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad.
And I love Georgetown. An industrial area repurposed into a hip enclave of Seattle that’s eclectic without feeling trendy or commercial.
In the heart of the bohemian Georgetown “scene” is a new place, The Sandbox, an indoor beach facility where you can play in a volleyball league year round.
But the kids and I were there for a new program offered called Lil Diggers.
“I’ve never seen sand like this in Washington,” I overheard a mom say. It was a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by beautiful clean sand.
I glanced around at a full house: 20-plus moms with pant legs rolled up wriggling our toes into the white squishy sand as our toddler offspring were happily shoveling, sliding, giggling, and playing ball.
“How did all this get started?” I asked the owner Willie Moneda. He wasn’t hard to spot be-bopping around the sand like a proud papa.
Willie explained that he dreamed of giving up his day job and opening an indoor volleyball facility. Willie’s dream was born from the pick up volleyball games in the Alki sands, that grew into an indoor volleyball facility in a dilapidated West Seattle building without any heat and filled with owl’s nests.
“My wife said, ‘Either follow your dream and open a real space or stop talking about it!’”
So Willie quit his job as an engineer and moved into the new space in Georgetown — with heat, cheerful murals and a lot of sand.
“How did the Lil Diggers happen?” I asked’ referring to the toddler program that encourages kids to “happily run free and dig up the indoor sandbox as parents relax and chat with other parents.”
Willie said that he was having a meeting. His business partner had brought his toddler who was a “handful.” Once the toddler found the sand she was so absorbed in free play and digging they couldn’t believe it.
“We knew we had something.” Willie said.
Playing in the sand that day with Patrick and Ty surrounded by moms and toddlers it was hard to believe that Willie’s business meeting had taken place just a few months ago—clearly the place was a hit. They now offer chair massage for Moms, beverages and snacks.
“All these people are here for the first time.” Willie said, seemingly surprised by his good fortune. “We’ve done zero advertising to promote the Lil Diggers. It’s all word of mouth . . . mostly Moms.”
Lil Diggers is such a simple concept — a place for Mom and tots to play outside the rain for a few hours. I wasn’t surprised. Moms are always looking for new places to take their kids, especially during fall and winter.
“Moms are coming from all over. West Seattle, Green Lake and Madison Moms groups.”
“Don’t forget Renton,” I say.
I myself had heard about Lil Diggers from the Renton Meetup group called Active Moms And Tots.
“Yes, Moms are very powerful!” Willie exclaimed. His eyes had the bedazzled appearance of one under the spell of a talisman.
Driving home that day I was happy that I had discovered a fun new place to take my kids.
But by the time I was driving down Fourth Street in downtown Renton I was reminded how similar Georgetown and downtown Renton are.
The historic Rainier Brewing Co.’s original Rainier Brewery, once reportedly the sixth-largest brewery in the world, is now called the Georgetown Brewhouse and is home to artists and small businesses.
We have so many empty historic buildings that are opportunities for businesses like The Sandbox. Willie Moneda’s innovative American Dream tweaked to appeal to kids and adults alike.
With the relocation of the Chamber of Commerce downtown and (like it or not) the new high-tech KCLS library, I hope downtown Renton will continue to come into its own and experience the kind of 21st Century revival going on in Georgetown. Attracting more artists, coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, bars and creative businesses with imaginative concepts and storefronts that will attract people from Renton and neighborhoods beyond.
I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow Carolyn on her blog,www.pippimamma.com.
Sandbox Sports Seattle
5955 Airport Way S Seattle, WA 98108
The Lil Diggers program has proven so popular that additional days and kids classes have been added. Playtime is open on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and costs $6.