Shenan Robinson and Latrina Harris want to change how the Qcity parties.

They’ll never admit to that, of course.

When they talk of their latest venture — PlayDate Charlotte — they use more modest terms.

“We just want to give people an alternative,” said Harris, who moved from Seattle four years ago and now owns a property-management company.

But if the PlayDate experience in other cities holds true, PlayDate Charlotte could be our next big thing, at least in the short term.

For those unfamiliar, here’s how it works: Instead of the usual club scene, party-goers pay a $10 cover to play the games they enjoyed as children — Twister, Simon Says, Scrabble, Pictionary, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, musical chairs, even hula-hoops.

The idea, Robinson and Harris said, is to get everyone in the room playing, even the wall flowers.

Along with the games of yesterday, Robinson and Harris said they plan to throw in some modern fun, such as video games and Wii. But it’s the old-school play, they said, that will keep the party hopping. They’ve already gotten a request for jacks.

“PlayDate really transforms you back to a time when it was all carefree and fun,” said Harris. “It’s a very relaxed environment where the games are the ice breakers.”

Other Charlotte-area promoters say the concept is fresh, but none appears worried.

Mike Kitchen, owner of Michael L. Kitchen & Associates (aka, The Sol Kitchen) said he has friends in Nashville who own the PlayDate franchise there. “They’re doing it big,” he said, but not every city has had that success.

“It’s a good concept, but it takes the right promotion, like everything,” Kitchen said. “You can’t just put it out there and think it will blow up… I have confidence in what I’m doing.”

PlayDate began in Atlanta about five years ago and has spread to at least 15 other cities, including Houston, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, Seattle, Orlando, Birmingham and Savannah, Ga. The trademark is owned by an Atlanta company called Timeless Entertainment Concepts.

Robinson and Harris bought the Charlotte franchise, along with the rights for Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham. PlayDate Charlotte is set to debut April 18 at the Big Chill. The other N.C. locations, they said, will launch later this years.

The partners refused to disclose how much they paid for the local franchise.

“It’s not a small fee, I’ll tell you that,” says Robinson, who left IBM several years ago as a project manager to start his own custom homebuilding business.

In cities where PlayDate is most popular, it routinely draws as many as 800 people per night. In addition to hosing it in established locations, Robinson and Harris said they also plan to offer PlayDate for corporate events, private parties and family reunions.

Like most franchises, the PlayDate concept is designed to be similar in every city, but each franchise holder is free to make minor adjustments. Robinson and Harris said they were required to attend training as part of the licensing process.

“They want us to treat it like a business,” Robinson said. “We are part of a national network.”

With the economy sagging and layoffs mounting, Robinson and Harris said they believe people are looking for fun distractions. In fact, economic troubles were what led the partners to first consider PlayDate.

As the housing market collapsed, Robinson said, demand for custom homes shriveled, and Harris said about 40 percent of her clients lost their rental properties to foreclosure.

While each still runs his/her respective business, they said they believe PlayDate will have a long run in Charlotte, long after the novelty has faded.

“There is no shelf life when it comes to games and fundamental entertainment,” Harris said. “We have very creative minds. We’ll come up with ways to shine it up, gloss it up and refresh it.”

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