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It may not seem like a big deal: just a few toy cars for children to climb on and dart past on a colorful carpet emblazoned with winding roadways. It's a place for tired parents and grandparents to grab a break, relaxing nearby with a snack or cup of coffee and watching their children play from a safe distance.

But ask anyone who frequents the Children's Play Place in the food court at Boulevard Mall and they will tell you: it's a very big deal.

Always full and bustling, it's a welcome refuge for families, especially during the thick of winter when little ones are climbing the walls at home. It's safe, it's fun, it's convenient and--maybe most important of all--it's free.

Free for the families that depend on it, anyway.

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But parents started to worry when the sign for the Play Place came down and it closed temporarily last month.

It turns out the popular playground area's sponsor, Northtown Automotive, had decided not to continue its sponsorship.

Northtown Automotive, which sponsored the attraction for years, decided not to renew its contract, which covers the repairs and maintenance of the toys in exchange for advertising opportunities at the mall.

But that doesn’t mean parents have to worry, the mall said.

“The Play Place is not going away,” said Betsey Bonvissuto, the mall’s marketing manager. "It's still open. It will never go away because of the lack of a sponsor."

The mall has taken over the cost of supporting the play area until  a new sponsor can be secured. Those costs include covering repairs and maintenance, replacing toys, as well as cleaning and disinfecting the area and shampooing the carpet.

"It is extremely popular and a big draw for families," Bonvissuto said.

---Samantha Christmann

Got retail tips or questions? Send them to me. E-mail schristmann@buffnews.com, Tweet me @DiscountDivaSam or "like" me on Facebook, Facebook.com/DiscountDiva.