Popo’s new ‘country playground’

Posted on May 14, 2014 by Sonoma Valley Sun

After 27 busy years of gigs as Popo the Clown, from county fairs to backyard parties, Penny Byrd knows what kids like. And, more importantly, what parents want.

They want a place for a birthday party or kids’ celebration that’s convenient, inexpensive and, well, not their own house. Show up, play around with cool toys and games for two hours, and go home to a clean, quiet home.

“I kept hearing, ‘Where can we go? Where can I take my party?” Byrd said. Restaurants, she’s learned over the years, aren’t the best place for hyper six-year-olds that are supposed to stay still.

Keep seated at a birthday party? Are you clowning me?

Byrd’s long-percolating idea for the ideal place has come to life with Popo’s Party Barn, her new venture on Eighth Street East in Sonoma. “It’s a country playground for kids,” she says. “A place for hands-on, unplugged play.”

The space, decorated with a western theme, is stocked with dolls, dinosuars and toy cars, puzzles and books, a wagon trolley, arts and crafts, hula hoops, even stick horses. Imagination does the rest.

There’s not an electronic device in sight. Digital? Use your ten fingers. These aren’t apps for toys, they’re the real, actual thing. Old fashioned? Maybe, but the kids love it, Byrd said.

Popo herself is not part of the standard deal. She’s glad to oversee the parties and spend more time in Sonoma. After 27 years in costume, 18 of them on the road, “I’m tired of all that traveling.”

The target age for kids is two to nine, and the barn can accommodate a party of up to 20 kids. The rental is a flat $200 for two hours, and party hosts can bring their own food, cake and drinks.

“The kids come in, the party starts and they just go. It’s all theirs. The place belongs to them.”

Popo’s Party Barn is located at 19622 Eighth St. E., next to The Granary. For reservations and information call 933.1800. On May 29, Penny Byrd will teach a table manners class for kids, with dinner, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The cost is $20.

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