Off to Camp in Chelsea

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A new combination store, showroom, activity hub and canteen appeals to kids and grown-ups alike


  • Entrance at 110 Fifth Avenue. Photo: Deborah Fenker

  • The store component of Camp. Photo: Deborah Fenker

  • Play area with directional sign. Photo: Deborah Fenker

  • Sword-fighting the “Lick-a-Bubble.” Photo: Deborah Fenker

Depending on your faith in groundhogs, spring may or may not rear its idyllic head earlier than usual. But regardless of any predictions, we still have a bit to go before the calendar corroborates the equinox, and probably even longer before the thermometer encourages flip-flops and picnics. So if you’ve got stir-crazy kids grumbling about the confines of a small apartment, or maybe you feel like one yourself, there’s no time like to now to visit Camp.

Camp is almost two months old now, still a neonate in its own right, but it behaves like a very precocious youngster — full of wide-eyed enthusiasm and potential. It is the brainchild of Ben and Nikki Kaufman, who quite charmingly first met one another at summer camp themselves as children, before serendipitously reconnecting as adults, marrying and collaborating to co-found Camp. The product of their union is now open on Fifth Avenue and 16th Street: a destination for joy, exploration and even rejuvenation of the mind and soul.

A combination store, experiential showroom, activity hub and canteen, Camp quite literally has something for everyone. The front of the venue is a gift shop, with products that appeal to kids and grown-ups alike. The staff circulates to answer questions and encourage interaction; they are so energetic and friendly they really do seem more like the best camp counselors ever, rather than store clerks. I spoke with one of the managers, Guy Puglia, who says, “We all get into it. It’s the best place to work.”

And how can one not feel a little mirth, with addictively squishy, shape-shifting Googly Balls, pony-sized hobby horses that you can actually ride, an L.E.D. disco floor to rival Saturday Night Fever and the crazy-popular Lick-a-Bubble machine, spewing out custom-flavored edible bubbles into the air to the delight of each tongue they burst on. There are nostalgic throw-backs like Monopoly, sets of jacks and Jack-in-the-Boxes, and innovative learning toys so creative you’d wonder what you might have been capable of had you had access to them in your youth.

Then there are grown-up items, like a make-your-own gin kit and a sampler of bitters, but all the merchandise is expertly curated to fit into the whole outdoorsy, camp-friendly, authentic feel. Exploring the space, one really can’t tell who is happier to be there: the kids, their parents or the employees.

And there is a lot to explore: Camp isn’t just a store. A “secret door” opens up into a magical experiential space, where it’s all hands-on. It transports you into another world, forest-like and wild, with stuff happening at every turn. There’s a life-sized camp bunk, complete with a bright yellow tube slide that deposits you from the upper bed onto that illuminated dance floor. In addition to acting as a showroom to test-drive all the products in the store, Camp offers a full calendar of events, usually $25 per child, ranging from music lessons and yoga to creating your own illuminated dreamcatcher.

And what is a camp outing without snacks? Camp has collaborated with Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar to create a crave-worthy canteen featuring an array of camp-themed sweets. The current speciality exclusive to Camp is a S’Mores sundae, featuring her signature cereal milk soft serve, crunchy compost cookie crumbs, toasty charred marshmallows and gooey fudge and marshmallows sauces. Camp will continue to offer creations inspired by the changing themes of the Camp experience, which will update ever three or four months, maintaining the sense of adventure for newcomers and attracting all types. And there will always be a full DIY sundae bar, plus classics like Crack Pie (you can tell the kiddos it’s called that because the crust cracks when it bakes), as well as elegant pastries from Ceci-Cela and a full menu of Counter Culture coffee beverages to keep parents as energized as their sugar-fueled offspring.

So far, there’s just one Camp. But there are plans in the works for new locations in other states, and perhaps even more Camp sites in different New York City neighborhoods. For now, though, Chelsea residents and whoever is willing to make however long a jaunt to is required to visit are the lucky ones. If you decide to venture in, try and make it during the week because on weekends it is already very popular, and subsequently chaotically crowded. Even though this winter hasn’t been that harsh (thus far), it is great to have somewhere to go, non-weather dependent, that is like the best summer camp your may or may not have ever attended. If you fall into the latter category, now is your chance.

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