October 2nd, 2010 17:47 EST
Canada: What's In Store: Coffee, Baby Talk And Tips For Moms
Toronto (Women`s Feature Service) - A mother`s quest for child care in a Toronto neighbourhood has birthed an entrepreneur whose store not only sells baby-ware but is gradually becoming a parenting and community hub.
With her year long maternity drawing to a close and the remote possibility of finding a day care that could tailor its working hours to her shift duties, Amanda Slonim, a 30-year-old trained nurse, decided to pursue her latent dream. And that`s how The Little Bird Fly, a shop that sells gently used children`s clothing, toys, books, strollers and maternity wear was born. Also on offer here are new handmade clothing - created by Slonim herself - and artwork by local artists. Of particular import for parents and kids alike is the child friendly play area with attractive toys and soft mats enabling parents to do their shopping in peace while their kids are safely preoccupied.
Retracing her initial steps, Slonim says, "There weren`t many second-hand clothing stores in the west-end so we (mothers) were travelling long distance to buy these clothes. At the time every mother I was talking to seemed to say: `We really need something here in the west end`. So, the idea (of opening gently used clothing store) was always there. Also I like to sew and create new stuff and the store provided an avenue for that too."
Slonim got this idea off the ground, shoring it up with finances from family savings. Last July, she inaugurated Little Bird Fly in Toronto`s Junction area. But what sets this young mom`s venture apart from other such stores is that it is not all about toys and clothes. If there is a musician getting kids and parents to belt out tunes one day, they could be breaking into peals of laughter on a clown`s antics the other. And soon Slonim is planning to get a nutritionist and a professional to introduce parents to baby sign language. She hopes the array of activities would make the Little Bird Fly a parenting hub.
While second hand stores for kids` stuff may not be a regular sight in some parts of the world, it is common for young parents in North America to scout such stores for items ranging from clothes and toys to strollers and cribs. "If you live in big cities you have a big mortgage to pay off plus kids` clothes are used for such a short time so a lot of young parents are okay with second hand stores," says Slonim. Her optimism about the store`s future stems partly from the high birth-rate in the High Park-Roncesvalles-Junction area where her store is located. And the number of strollers visible in the neighbourhood seems to bear out her assessment.
The idea of utilising the large store space for something more than just clothes and toys came to her soon after Little Bird Fly opened its doors. A mothers` group approached Slonim to rent space to hold their weekly coffee rendezvous. So ever since last winter, come Monday and the store is abuzz with kids milling about in the play area while moms make steaming cups of coffee in the small kitchenette and catch up with their friends. For the women this is a much better option than a cramped coffee shop that has very little space for kids and their strollers.
Besides, the store`s event calendar is action packed. Last year, Slonim collaborated with a local musician who worked with kids and initiated a music programme. Although it received a lukewarm response - which she attributes to the store`s nascent origins and people`s reluctance to put up money upfront for a programme - it didn`t discourage her. The ball had started to roll and soon a mix of registered and drop-in (where no pre registration is required for participation) programmes were regular features. Now her husband runs a weekly free drop-in (variety) programme and another local musician runs a drop-in pay-what-you-can bi-weekly programme that Slonim claims has been very successful. There have been many workshops and seminars too. And she is looking forward to introducing some more programmes soon.
With an eye on promoting local business and artists, Slonim is also renting out the store`s back space for them to showcase their creations. Some artwork is ready up on the wall. A Toronto designer brings her unique clothing, accessories and other items twice a week to Little Bird and Slonim hopes it will be busy with more designer, artists and entrepreneurs taking up the space. While one store corner is creatively abuzz, the other corner is rented out for small get-togethers like birthday party or mother`s meetings.
These spaces may bring revenue and visibility to the store, but the one that satiates Slonim`s creative impulses is the section that has her own hand-made clothing for sale. It is a small collection considering Slonim can pick up the needle only when she gets time off from her busy schedule with running the store and caring for a two-year-old.
A year into her business Slonim is happy the store is "pretty much sustaining itself" and she is now looking to making it a profitable venture. A new community centre across the street caused some anxious moments, but she is confident of holding her ground. She says, "We are still seeing what that means. Surely, it is a nice addition to the neighbourhood. Initially I thought maybe my programmes will be impacted, but then it will be what it will be. Also I think it is a different experience from one place to other."
In the meantime, she is streamlining her business, which might involve getting business partners. "It is always wise to do such businesses in partnerships because you would have that much more energy, passion and ideas. It is too much for one person to be doing everything, right from sales to customer service, inventory maintenance and so on. Having partners would enable each one to take some time off to do other things so they can recharge and give more to the business," she says.
By V. Radhika
© Women`s Feature Service