When Haley Ritchie was nannying, she stumbled on an indoor play place, and instantly loved the imagination it inspired in kids and convenience and safety factor it gave parents. Now, a mom herself, this NJMOMpreneur decided to bring her own light, magical, woodland-inspired vision to life with her own space, Play Away, in Hackettstown. This bright and beautiful new play space is adorably themed, with little houses for the kids to duck in and out of and play pretend (think Doctor Fox’s Veterinarian Hospital and Honey Bear Market). To get out all that energy, there’s a sturdy play set to explore, and for mamas coming in with babes in tow while their toddlers run around, there’s an infant area and nursing room. We’re loving this NJMOMpreneur’s persistence in fulfilling a need for fellow parents in her community and her pride in being a #momboss who can actually bring her child to work each day. She gave us a sneak peek inside Play Away and shared some of her favorite go-to Jersey spots (we’re totally making a trip to the Czig Meister Brewery on her recommendation).
Creator of Play Away & NJMOMpreneur Haley Ritchie
NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field?
Haley: I created Play Away in hopes to have a one-stop location for parents to bring their littles where it could be as “stress-free” as possible. We have an open floor plan in our play area. My main focus is with our incredibly crafted play homes (thank you, Lilliput Play Homes). They are each designed and run by our friendly woodland creatures. We offer the Officer Racc’s Police Station, Bunnies Tea Room, The Honey Bear Market & Dr. Fox’s Veterinary Hospital.
Our play set is designed with see-through front sides so you can still see your little ones when they are climbing about. We also have a separate play set for those under the age of two. I also made sure to make a separate area for those infant crawling ages, with a gated-off area. So, if mom or dad has an older child running around, their baby can be in a separate area but still visible and safe. This way, the parents can keep an eye on both children at all times.
Along with our open play, we offer classes that are weekly, and not an 8-week commitment. We also have party packages that allow you to shut down our entire facility for just you and your friends. At Play Away we also have a mini “coffee” bar for moms and dad since, well, we all need that extra energy boost.
Don’t stress and don’t lose sight of why you started this journey.” -NJMOMpreneur, Haley Ritchie
NJMOM: What inspired you to get into your line of work?
Haley: I worked as a daycare/preschool teacher and nanny for 10+ years and have been steadily babysitting since I was 13 years old. I’ve spent a majority of that time always looking for something fun to do with the kids on days that we just didn’t want to go to a park. After visiting a location 3 years ago that offered great imaginary play for children, I realized we needed more of these places in every town. So, with my love of child’s play, coffee and woodland animals, Play Away was created in my mind and 3 years later, brought to life. It’s all thanks to the help and support of my parents and husband and truthfully, my daughter, for giving me that last bit of motivation I needed.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Haley: Since we just opened, I think my favorite part has been to design each house with an amazing company called Lilliput Play Homes and create our play sets with Cedarworks. It’s amazing to see my ideas come to life.
NJMOM: What is your background in your business expertise?
Haley: Working with children inside and outside of a classroom, as well as through becoming a parent, I’ve learned the needs and wants of this business from a outsider’s perspective. I was able to use that to help design our play place.
NJMOM: What are you most proud of in your career?
Haley: This is my first year and with a brand new business, I can’t say what I’m most proud or won’t change. If I had to choose something right now, I’d say the ability to be a full-time mama and full-time boss has been pretty amazing. My daughter gets to watch her mom’s dream come true and I don’t have to miss a second of her growing up. So, maybe I’m most proud of keeping to my hopes of being a “SAHM,” who is actually a full time working mom too. I just get to bring my baby to work with me every day!
NJMOM: What is something few people know about you?
Haley: I left high school at 16, later homeschooled myself and then finally decided to return to “Adult High School” in Denville at age 20. This was a huge accomplishment, one not done traditionally, but I think it’s one of the things that has helped me to discover who I am and how my mind operates so I could end up where I am right now.
NJMOM: What can we expect from you next year – personally and professionally?
Haley: Next year, I don’t want to say I expect anything, but rather I hope to be in a routine with my business. I hope that we are providing parents with a fun and safe environment that they want to come to. I hope that I am also in a place where juggling being a mom and business owner is not stressful, but fulfilling.
NJMOM: What charitable cause are you most passionate about?
Haley: I am an animal lover, so any charity that works with pets is where you will find us helping out. We have a rescue dog named Katniss who is deaf and our first baby. I have also worked with some other rescues to help raise money and hope to eventually make this a job that Play Away does. Whether it be a certain percent of our cost or throwing an event at our play place, one way or another we will be helping out our animal friends!
NJMOM: What is the best piece of advice your mom (or parent/role model) ever gave to you?
Haley: I wouldn’t say it was advice that she gave me, but rather the freedom she gave me as a child, teenager and adult to grow and do as I felt fit for myself. My mom never hovered, she never pushed us to do sports or activities if they didn’t make us happy, she was never angry or disappointed if we got bad grades. My mom saw us as people, individuals who grew and learned in different ways, and she let us experience life as we needed to without judgment and without overstepping. She parented knowing we were going to go out into a world that wasn’t always going to be nice or pretty and let us learn what we could handle. I only hope to do the same thing for my daughter, to give her the freedom to make her own choices and guide her in a way that allows her to grow into a kind, smart and independent human, just as my mom and dad did for us.
NJMOM: Do you have a favorite quote you live by? Why is this quote so important to you?
Haley: I don’t have a quote that I live by. I used to love words, quotes, poems, lyrics, or anything that spoke deeply to my life at a given time. I still do today. So, I don’t think I’ll ever have one quote that I LOVE. As my life changes, so do the quotes and words I read.
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Haley: Growing up in West Orange I was lucky to be surrounded by a ton of activities, one being the Turtle Back Zoo. Now, being a mom and all the past years I nannied, it’s been amazing to watch the zoo grow and evolve. Every time we visit we have such an amazing time! Of course, I love the fall season. But I don’t know how anyone could live in NJ and not love fall. We’re so lucky to live in a state where we have so many outdoor activities. From apple and pumpkin picking to haunted hayrides, it’s all amazing. The fall air, the local events and the sweaters, I don’t think there is anything better.
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Haley: I don’t think there is just one thing. I think every stage is so different and amazing in its own way. But I love watching Rori Mae grow and over the last 4 or 5 months develop this silly and sassy personality. She’s 17 months going on 17!
NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in New Jersey?
Haley: I grew up in West Orange, so I was lucky enough to be in a town that had a zoo, ice skating rink and movie theater! Recently though, my husband and I moved to Hackettstown and we have been able to enjoy some of our local favorites. We are both huge beer lovers so we spend a lot of time with our friends and their kids at Czig Meister Brewery. I also love how close we are to so many farms, something we enjoyed before having my daughter and even more now that she can enjoy it with us. But, with that said, we have our go-to spots: Pandan Room for dinner, Czig Meister for drinks, Marley’s for wings (tofu wings for me I’m a vegetarian), and Kilhaney’s Pickles for our daughter’s pickle obsession. We can’t walk past their door without her walking in!
NJMOM: Where do you reside and vacation in New Jersey?
Haley: We live in Hackettstown. Growing up my family always went to LBI! We would rent a beach house with our family and my mom’s side of the family. It will always be my go-to vacation spot and I can’t wait to take Rori there next year!
NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out?
Haley: Don’t stress and don’t lose sight of why you started this journey and always remember to limit the work time so you don’t miss out on family time.