CAMP, one of our favorite NYC stores where kids can play for FREE (and one of our favorite new additions to NYC last year, period) isn't your average toy store with a play space. The entire space reinvents itself every season, making it an imaginative wonderland designed for repeat exploration.
Situated on the corner of 16th Street and Fifth Avenue, CAMP looks like a retail shop from the street—albeit one with an on-site Milk Bar and a funky collection of merchandise, from toys and games to books and clothing. But look closer and you'll see that there's something spectacular hiding behind a secret door. Find the entrance (with the help of a super-friendly CAMP counselor) and you're in for hours of fun, and a cool indoor place to play.
The play space at CAMP just launched its latest themed reinvention—read on for a peek inside.
CAMP's secret door takes you into a misty, mysterious passageway to a 10,000-square-foot play space and store, which at its heart is meant to be an experiential retail space. Its theme rotates every couple of months, along with the funky finds, making CAMP a great place to play and to find a super cool gift for your child—or for the endless birthday parties that fill your weekends.
Explore Australia's Great Barrier Reef with the new travel-themed CAMP.
The flagship store just unveiled its third theme, Travel Camp, bringing with it a whole new world of experiences to explore. You'll feel like you're on a jumbo jet runway as you turn the corner from the magic door, and realize you've landed at the doorstep of Big Ben in London. Explore funky tea sets and outfits fit for a queen, and be sure to stamp your passport before moving on via the EuroRail. You'll explore petite Parisian boutiques, go underwater at Australia's Great Barrier Reef, explore a Chinese temple, and go for a wild romp in a Costa Rican-themed jungle playground, before embarking on a relaxing, picture-perfect African safari.
Check out the cool items that kids will be asking to take home.
Each interactive section is stocked with a curated selection of goodies. And while my kids saw plenty of things they wanted to have, they also spent nearly two hours exploring the space, focused on having fun and interacting with the energetic, kid-friendly counselors. It's hard to leave totally empty-handed, but each of our multiple visits has produced a unique, high-quality, reasonably priced purchase or two.
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The Campitheater, an enclosed space at the back, serves as a classroom and party space for the store, hosting frequent events and workshops tied to the current theme. CAMP recently launched a membership program that includes access to members-only hours daily, plus up to two activities each day, a date-night dropoff program, a free cup of coffee or tea daily from the Milk Bar, plus more surprises and perks, for $50 per month ($25 for each additional child, with discounts for longer-range memberships). Non-members can still attend classes, though most have fees attached. If you plan to attend more than one event each month, the membership fee is likely worth it.
Get to know the historical landmarks of Paris.
Touching and playing with toys is encouraged. While the space itself is tons of fun, and interactive in so many ways, the staff also makes the experience memorable. I was really struck by the customer service the counselors provided, as well as all the elements they brought to make the experience so special for my kids. I was told that the co-owners, Nikki and Ben Kaufman, looked for counselors who were not only great with kids, but had talents that could be showcased in programming for the space.
Lest you think CAMP is some one-trick pony, here's the other remarkable thing: Each theme is temporary. Every 8-12 weeks, CAMP will pack up its installation and start from scratch with a new batch of surprises to play with and to purchase. Previous themes at CAMP have included Basecamp, every kid's fantasy summer camp, and Cooking Camp, a farm-to-cute-French-cafe-table exploration of food. On my multiple visits, with kids ranging in age from 5 to 10, they've all had a blast and found different draws; that said, kids as young as 3 would definitely find something fun to do here.
Indulge in macarons in the Paris area.
While New York has had its share of Instagram-worthy, interactive popups lately, from Candytopia to Mickey: The True Original Exhibition, CAMP is here to stay; save a few days of downtime each time it reimagines its space. Even better news: CAMP is expanding, bringing a brand-new location to City Point in Brooklyn this fall.
Buyers take note, CAMP is a cash-less retailer.
Photos by the author