Welcome to the ‘Hood: Gymboree Play & Music


From left: Debra Whitefield and Joanne Hirkaler

“I have to tell
you how many people came by to say, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood,’” says Joanne Hirkaler, director of operations for Gymboree Play & Music in Manhattan. “Merchants, customers, everybody.”

“I found the same thing at last month’s Meet & Greet for Tribeca merchants,” adds owner Debra Whitefield as they take me on a tour. “Everyone was so eager to welcome us.”

“And let me tell you, you don’t feel that everywhere,” says Hirkaler.

Gymboree Play & Music was founded in 1976 by Joan Barnes, a mother in Marin County, Calif. “It’s a classic entrepreneur story,” says Whitefield. “She saw a need and filled it. Then it grew quickly and she franchised.” Whitefield, a former journalist, bought the Manhattan franchise rights in 2004 with her husband, Barry Hanson; they now have six outposts in Manhattan and seven in Long Island, where they live. (Hirkaler lives in New Jersey.) Whitefield and Hanson actually looked at a space on West Broadway soon after starting out, but the price was too high. The recession—and MiniMasters’ departure—made 100 Reade Street irresistible. The new Gymboree Play & Music officially opened on Sept. 14, with just a couple of weeks’ prep. The grand opening party is this Sunday from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. There will be sample classes, open play, balloons, raffles, Gymbo the clown, and a muscial performance by Mr. Ray at 3 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

gymboree-2-by-tribeca-citizengymboree-3-by-tribeca-citizengymboree-4-by-tribeca-citizenAt 5,600 square feet, this Gymboree Play & Music—plain old Gymboree is a clothing store—is twice the size of other ones in Manhattan. Upstairs are the offices; a haircutting station (below left) for Gloria, formerly of Whipper Snippers; and a café, which Whitefield and Hirkaler are hoping to get up and running soon. Downstairs is the “gym” area (above left), a playspace with padded half-walls and floors; a room where babies can be taken when they need private time; an art room (“This week is all about body parts,” says Hirkaler, and sure enough, a bunch of beaming kids are up against a wall, getting their outlines traced.) There’s also a dance room with mirrored walls and a barre, and while Whitefield and Hirkaler have yet to decide what to do with it, they’ve been approached about subletting it for movement and perhaps performance classes.

Designed for kids five and under, most classes are for kids accompanied by a parent or caregiver, though Gymboree Play & Music also has a preschool program that has “total separation,” says Whitefield. Classes can be purchased à la carte, or on a monthly, semester, or annual basis. And potential customers can preview a class for free.

Saturday and Sunday afternoons are reserved for birthday parties, available to members and non-members. You can choose a theme—Farmyard Fun, Princess Playhouse (includes dress-up), Construction Zone, Jungle Safari, etc.—and then let Gymboree Play & Music do all the rest, including clean up.

(Gymboree Play & Music will also be hosting the Tribeca Meet & Greet on Tuesday, Oct. 13, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Stop by! It’s also the official launch of Tribeca Citizen.)

Gymboree is at 100 Reade St., between West Broadway and Church; 212-566-2795 or 877-GYM-LEARN. Class schedules, prices, and other information can be found at gymboreeclasses.com. To book a haircut with Gloria, call 212-566-2795.




  1. Hello. I’m interested in enrolling my son Julius, almost 1yr, in a class that’s not entirely music. He’s currently in a music class.

    We would love to come to a free trial class, if you offer any.

    Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.


  2. Hi, Florence. Thanks for the comment, but you’re better off contacting Gymboree Play & Music directly at (212) 566-2795 or tribecany@gymboreeclasses.com. I’m sure they’ll be happy to help you.