Kids of all ages enjoy the giant ball pit that took up a majority of the space at Jelly Beans in Tanger 1. PHOTOS BY SOPHIA TOWNES

An indoor play space that struck all the right cords with Beaufort County families is now facing an eviction.

Jumpin’ Jellybeans received word from Tanger Outlet officials Jan. 23 that their 7,500-square-foot space in Tanger 1 was being taken over by their next-door neighbor, the recently opened Serena & Lily Outlet. 

They were given 30 days to vacate the space.

The news came as a shock to owner Tanyelle Cole. Given the time needed to break down their equipment and clear out of the building, she chose to announce to patrons that she was closing on Jan. 27.

“We were courted by Tanger and Bluffton/Hilton Head was the best fit for us. We signed a lease in April 2022, opened in July and it’s been a wonderful experience until (now),” Cole said. 

She acknowledged that the growing small business signed a specialty lease – often offered by shopping centers to fill space, but with clauses included if a larger corporate client is interested in taking over the space – but rolled the dice because she believed in proving her worth to the outlet giant.

“We are from Tennessee, we opened two other spots in outdoor shopping center spaces and we’ve been slowly perfecting the format to where we were ready for the challenge in Bluffton,” Cole said. The first two locations are slightly smaller spaces in Collierville, Tennessee, and Spanish Fort, Alabama.

Jumpin’ Jellybeans is marketed as a “boutique play space” for kids 10 and under, a place with a gigantic ball bit as the star attraction. There are no bounce houses or trampolines in the space. The space features a designated toddler area, free coffee, and a café area for parents, offering the ability to bring in your own food and snacks. 

The concept made a quick and wide-spanning impact on the area, as parents raved about the concept. One group especially enthused with the space is the Lowcountry Autism Foundation, which has used the space as the home of their monthly Parents Night Out.

“This event, it means the world to our families. To have that window of time where they can trust that our kids are safe and enjoying themselves and we can take a breath, it’s a game changer. That respite is vital for our families,” said Sophia Townes, LAF Beaufort County program coordinator. “My son is on the spectrum, so I know what that time to play and rejuvenate means.”

Townes made a connection with Cole immediately and said she could tell from their first meeting that Cole had experience with special needs kids. 

“We were at Island Playground to start and then at The Sandbox, but this has been the most all-around perfect fit for us,” Townes said. “Tanyelle and her staff, they are so caring, they go out of their way to make our kids and our families feel at home. The place is so clean, so well run with such care, they have gone the extra mile to truly embrace the community. To become this vital to so many in just a matter of months, it speaks volumes about who they are.”

Cole said her experience with Tanger had been outstanding up until receiving the eviction notice, though she said the news is bitterly ironic.

“We were shown one space when we were looking at Tanger and it was too small. But then we were told there was a larger space, that the calendar store was going to downgrade their space and that we could take that space,” Cole said. “Come to find out, the calendar store faced the same quick eviction we did; it was not their choice to move to a smaller space in Tanger 2. We are now the third specialty lease space that is being asked to move from Tanger 1 to Tanger 2. So, it turns out we were the mistress of sorts, and now there’s a new mistress.”

Cole said that Tanger did offer a smaller space for Jumpin’ Jellybeans in Tanger 2, but that the cost of retrofitting their equipment to fit the space would wipe them out financially.

“We’re scraping by, trying to grow this business. As much as we knew what could happen as a specialty lease, we thought we were earning our keep,” Cole said. “We were just preparing to have a discussion about a longer-term permanent lease with Tanger when we were told this news.”

Since hearing the news, Townes has been vocal and proactive in trying to spread the word about the closing. Posts from Cole elicited heartbreak and hundreds of comments from parents from the island to Statesboro, Georgia, and Charleston.

“There’s nothing like this around here. These folks, they care so much, it’s what has made them stand out since Day One,” said Bluffton parent Alicia Hendricks. 

“I cannot thank your family, company and employees enough for opening your doors to host Autism Respite Nights every month. I am so grateful for what you have done for our kids,” commented parent Kathleen Marie. 

Many of the parents that commented were from surrounding communities like Beaufort, begging Jumpin’ Jellybeans to bring the first indoor play space to the city. 

While Cole has begun to look around for alternative local homes, she is also going through the emotions of dealing with the news.

“We were actively selling annual memberships. We felt like we proved our worth, so many parents would leave one parent with the kids while the other went shopping and brought back plenty of shopping bags, or both parents felt rejuvenated enough after the play time that they both went shopping with the kids. We would not have done that if we had any inkling of this coming,” Cole said. 

“My husband was initially going to come get this space open and get a staff in place so we would not be here every day, but with the staffing shortage to start, I rented an apartment here to make this work, leaving my family in Tennessee,” she said. “We had just hired our last full-time staffer on Jan. 20. It was a celebration, and then this news came.”

When contacted for comment, Tanger officials said they understand the frustration and are trying to find a solution that works for all parties.

“Tanger Outlets values Jumpin’ Jellybeans as a tenant and recognizes the positive impact the business has in the community,” said a Tanger company spokesperson. “While we are unable to share specific details about lease terms and negotiations with businesses at the center, we can confirm that Tanger management is working closely with Jumpin’ Jellybeans ownership to find an alternate location within Tanger Outlets Hilton Head.”

Cole said that she has simultaneously been working on processing refunds for memberships and parties booked into the summer, while also holding out hope to be able to stay in Bluffton.

“The outpouring of love, the business support y’all have shown before this happened and since, we want to make it clear that we want to stay,” Cole said. “I followed God’s plan to launch this business model and I’m ready to ride out whatever the next part of that plan is. I very much hope it is here in Beaufort County.”

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton.