Jade Bower rarely goes to the mall.
If she does, she knows better than to bring her three young kids, who can make getting any shopping done a hopeless task. So when the Pennsylvania woman found herself at the Mall of America on Friday, she was excited to stumble upon the grand opening celebration for an on-site, drop-in child care center.
“This is amazing,” Bower said as she cradled an infant in her arms while her sons frolicked in a ball pit. “They’re having a blast.”
The Drop n’ Shop drop-in child care and entertainment center officially opens for business on Saturday on the third floor of the Mall in the Sears court. Parents can leave children from 6 months old to 12 years of age for up to two hours while they shop or go see a movie. Meanwhile, the kids will be entertained with various activities such as art projects, a mini-basketball or soccer area, watching movies or playing video games.
While drop-in child care services are a common sight at many fitness centers and at stores like Ikea, they have not gained much traction at shopping centers. Sporadic mall traffic is one major challenge. Both Eden Prairie Center and the Mall of America had similar concepts in the past, but they closed several years ago because not enough people used them.
But Twin Cities business partners and friends Domonique Scott and Shantell Dillard are undeterred, saying the model makes a lot of sense and has a lot of possibilities.
Drop n’ Shop was inspired after Dillard saw a mother storm out of a Gap store at a local mall after getting frustrated with keeping her children in line.
“It’s almost impossible to also keep your eyes on kids and shop,” said Scott. “If you turn your head for one second to look at a shirt, your kid is gone and you can’t find them. This really will give parents that carefree feeling when they’re shopping.”
Still, Scott and Dillard were surprised not to find a lot of similar centers at other malls. So they signed a short-term lease with the Mall of America to test it out.
“We’ll see how this first year goes,” said Scott. “If people are receptive and they like the service, then we’ll continue on.”
If it catches on, they have hopes of adding a nursery room and a breast-feeding area. They are also talking to other regional malls in the area.
It’s not a licensed day care, Scott added. So there are rules such as that parents have to stay on the mall’s premises and can only leave their kids for two hours. The center also doesn’t do things like feed kids or change diapers.
It has various security measures in place. The same parent or guardian who drops off a child has to pick him or her up. The parents will get invisible stamps with codes on them that can be seen only under special light to confirm they are picking up the right child. Parents will also have to bring back a special card and provide their license or state ID number to pick up their child.
“It’s like a triple check,” said Scott.
Drop n’ Shop charges $15 an hour Monday through Thursday and $20 an hour Friday through Sunday. It offers discounts for multiple children.
It has special events scheduled throughout the week, such as kids yoga and zumba. And it plans to promote date night specials targeted at parents who can’t find a sitter and want to grab dinner or see a movie at the mall.