By SEAN BARRON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
The school playground is still a top spot for recreation, but many people are taking a slice of the playground home with them.
Mahoning Valley merchants are selling more products to accommodate a trend they say is growing: people buying swing set packages for their back yards.
Lanore Jones' set is typical of what many people look for. According to salespeople, Jones and her family, as well as many other Mahoning Valley customers, like the extra items that come with sets, such as a sliding board and play area.
Safety has been a priority in designing, building and placing today's swings. Sets include safety features like molded, curve-shaped plastic and rounded edges. Some have plastic covering the swings' metal chains. Most sets have bark or other soft materials underneath, instead of concrete, said Mark Kramer, sales and service manager at Toys "R" Us in Niles. These sets, he said, are also easy to assemble and anchor.
Such changes have reduced the number and severity of injuries, Kramer added.
Popular styles: Toys "R" Us is selling more metal swings than other styles, according to Kramer. Most units come with two swings and include a slide, monkey bars and rings. Prices range from $99 to $250, he mentioned.
Sales at Toys "R" Us have taken off over the past few years, and customers are looking for the added features before making a purchase, Kramer added.
He also said such backyard merchandise appeals to people of all ages. Many grandparents are putting up sets for their grandchildren, he noted.
Growing trend: Other factors have contributed to this year's growing number of swing set purchases. The recent warm weather has influenced sales at the Boardman Kmart store, according to its operations manager, Alice Seman. The store sells two sizes, but people like the larger sets with a slide and other additions, Seman pointed out.
She also said she's seeing a wider age range among shoppers.
"We have lots of grandparents buying for their kids. Grandparents seem to be getting more involved in family life," Seman mentioned.
Many of John McPheron's Wal-Mart customers favor canopy swings, says the Austintown store's assistant manager. They were hard to find a few years ago because of high demand, but Wal-Mart has started stocking more to meet a greater need, McPheron said.
Many customers like the cushioned features and the protection from the sun the swings provide. After it rains, they dry out quickly.
"They're relatively inexpensive and add charm to the back yard," he said. "They're cheap relaxation for people who don't have shade trees."
Canopy models are designed to not swing as high as old-fashioned, traditional swings, McPheron added.
Stronger economic growth during the past six years has given customers more spending confidence, he said, adding people have more money for accessories.