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Now G-Rated, New York City’s Times Square Is Family-Friendly

When she’s not belting out “Tomorrow” on stage, “Annie,” accompanied by an orphan friend or two, likes to head out to Times Square for a quick game of laser tag at one of the slick new arcades, followed by a bowl of spaghetti or a burger at a hip but kid-friendly eatery.

They window-shop at the huge Disney Store that anchors the corner of 42nd Street. Across the street are two other recent arrivals kids love: DAPY for weird and wacky trinkets and Magic Max for take-home magic tricks.

“Times Square is really fascinating, especially at night with all of the lights, and a lot safer than I thought it would be,” said 8-year-old Brittny Kissinger, who plays “Annie” in the new 20th-anniversary Broadway production of the same name. For special occasions, her favorite Times Square spots are the revolving View restaurant atop the Marriott Marquis and, for dinner, the Olive Garden, with its big windows overlooking Times Square.

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Among the attractions favored by the younger set are high-tech game palaces (including Lazer Park on 47th Street and Xs Virtual Game Arena at Broadway and 42nd Street), the All Star Cafe and other restaurants offering a variety of foods from family-style Italian (Carmine’s) to ‘40s diner fare (Stardust Dine-O-Mat) to Tex-Mex (Manhattan Chili Co.) to pizza under a stained-glass dome (John’s Pizzeria) to dinner and comedy (Comedy Nation) to Chinese (Ollie’s Noodle Shop). And there are the ubiquitous hot dog, pretzel and souvlakia vendors too.

For more information on Times Square restaurants, hotels, theaters, music stores and other attractions, call the Times Square Business Improvement District (BID) at (212) 768-1560. Or visit the Times Square Visitors Center, 226 W. 42nd St. Or call the New York City Visitor Information Center, telephone (800) NYC-VISIT.

Times Square--that formerly tawdry stretch of 30 square blocks just west of Sixth Avenue from West 40th Street to West 53rd Street--is becoming a travel destination. Last year it hosted more than 30 million visitors, including 4 million American families, according to the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The change has been dramatic. Known a decade ago as a neighborhood visitors avoided for its hookers and peep shows, Times Square now is the spot kids beg to see first.

Parents are glad to oblige. They’re interested in seeing where the famous ball drops on New Year’s Eve and the giant Panasonic/NBC screen at One Times Square.

“Annie’s” real-life mom, Danielle Kissinger, favors browsing at the Virgin Megastore, the largest music store in the world, at 45th Street and Broadway. The guitar players in my family wouldn’t miss Music Store Row on 48th Street, just east of Broadway, where they can shop in Manny’s Music and Sam Ash, just like the rock-and-roll stars whose photos line the walls.

Theater buffs may want to introduce their kids to the excitement of the Broadway stage. Times Square, after all, has the biggest concentration of legitimate theaters--37--in the world.

These days, there are plenty of shows for families to choose from. Besides “Annie,” there’s “Grease,” “The King and I,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cats” (look for discount coupons at the visitors center) and “1776” (which is offering half-price tickets for kids 17 and under). Check out the well-known theater company, Roundabout Theater (tel. [212] 869-8400). In October, the stage adaptation of “The Lion King” begins performances at Disney’s landmark New Amsterdam Theater, once home to the Ziegfeld Follies, beautifully restored and reopened this spring.

Don’t miss the free summer theater offered in July by TheatreWorks/USA at the New Victory Theater, 209 W. 49th St., the only one in the city devoted to productions for children and the first historic theater to be renovated on West 42nd Street. Call (212) 382-4000.

Even after a day of museum-hopping or sightseeing, kids may want to take in a late movie, play some video games, grab a bite or buy that last souvenir, as many stores are open until midnight.

Tourists can feel New York’s pulse in Times Square, as well as appreciate the city’s diversity. Stand still for a minute as the crowd goes by. How many different languages can you hear? Consider the history in these few blocks. A hundred years ago, families came here to see vaudeville.

And it’s safer here than it has been. Crime has dropped 47% since 1992, and the sidewalks are now among the cleanest in New York.

Times Square businesses are determined to make it better. A private corps of public-safety officers and street cleaners patrol all day and evening, funded by the Times Square Business Improvement District. Look for their distinctive brightly colored jumpsuits: They can help guide tourists too.

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.


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