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Menlo Park: New store beckons budding builders

By Jane Knoerle, Almanac Lifestyles Editor

Build It Again With Bricks, at 611 Santa Cruz Ave. in Menlo Park, is a store where kids can build almost anything trains, ships, castles, vehicles and walking robots using Legos. What's more, parents don't need to buy expensive sets of the colorful plastic bricks for their little engineers.

"We want to show people they can build with what they already have," says store owner Karla Oliveira, who has conducted after-school Lego classes at Woodside Elementary, Oak Knoll and Encinal schools.

"Most people don't need any more sets. They need parts and they need instruction," she says. Build It Again With Bricks sells those parts and also buys and sells new and used Legos. "I sort, build, and put sets back together. It takes infinite patience. Being a woman helps," she says with a laugh.

The store holds classes for children ages 5 and up. While Legos have traditionally been boy toys, Ms. Oliveira says, "I especially want to encourage girls to join." She also sees the store as "a community place for kids to meet." And it's conveniently located next to Cold Stone Creamery.

Adult classes are also available. Ms. Oliveira has taught team-building classes at Google and Microsoft. In one class, techies had a competition where they built "an awesome Taj Mahal," she says.

The interior of Build It Again With Bricks is Lego bright with color blocks of red, blue, green and yellow. Near the entrance is a drop-in area, where children may be dropped off from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. without reservations. Cost is $15 an hour.

Adults may stay and play with the child at $10 an hour. "We have a couple of grandparents who are regulars," says Ms. Oliveira.

The class and birthday party area is in the back of the store. "At parties, we build with them, whatever they want. Often, there is a party theme," she says.

Lane Ransom, a specialist in behavioral therapy for children with special needs, is also employed at the store.

Ms. Oliveira, who is also a nutritionist and professional chef, first became interested in Legos when her older son, Colin, was a toddler. "He was very bright and, at 3, Legos were the only thing he could really focus on. And I got into it, too."

Colin has just graduated from the University of Oregon. Son Jackson attends UC Davis and often helps out in the store when he is home on weekends.

Build It Again With Bricks is open six days a week. It is closed on Tuesday, because that is the day Ms. Oliveira dons her chef's toque to prepare meals for her Silicon Valley clients.

She is also the author of the new "Tassajara Cookbook: Lunches, Picnics & Appetizers," which includes recipes for vegetarian appetizers and light meals from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

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