Every year around this time, I start to notice all the babies. Perhaps it’s just that everyone is spending more time outside (not just rushing from door to car, cowering in the sleet), or maybe it’s that all of the kids born throughout the winter suddenly make their appearance en masse. Either way, this week I had babies on my mind.
And I don’t think it’s just me. In the last year, two new stores (Flowerchild and Gingersnap) geared towards children, parents, and those in need gifts have opened up downtown, and by all accounts, business is good.
As the newest kid on the block, Flowerchild (100 Duckworth Street) seemed like a good place to start. It’s owned by the same couple that owns Hempware, and while it has it’s own branding, it’s really more of an extension of that store. Co-owner Nycki Temple-Delisle told me they’d always carried kids stuff in the older store, and when the space opened up it just seemed like the obvious direction to go.
“We’ve been watching more and more people spend money on their children,” she told me.
Flowerchild sells a lot of clothes, and, if the name didn’t give it away, there’s an emphasis on recycled, renewable, and local products—eco chic for kids. There are some small toys, some locally-made dolls, and some cooperative Nepalese imports. There aren’t many places to buy toys that used to be milk jugs in St. John’s.
“We want to be there for the local people,” says Temple-Delisle.
Clientele is mostly the same as Hempware, but Temple-Delisle said she’s been getting more men than expected: Mostly dads, but also young guys trying to be the cool uncle, she says.
Janet Murphy, who’s co-owned Gingersnap (202 Water) for just over a year also sees her store in a community context: “It’s a place for parents and kids,” she emphasizes. Inspired by FAO Shwartz and Mastermind, Murphy wanted to open a store where kids could play with the toys, and parents wouldn’t have to worry every second.
The aisles in Gingersnap are purposely wide to accommodate strollers, and Murphy points to a comfortable armchair towards the back as a space where a lot of nursing mothers come for a break. “It’s a lot better than whipping it out at Tim Horton’s,” she laughs. “And they know that there isn’t an expectation they need to buy anything.
She sells some clothes (old school punk branded onesies) but it’s mostly a toy store, and Murphy takes a lot of pride in her selection.
“I really cherry pick the selection,” she told me. “I don’t like carrying big brands, and I’ve been able to find a lot of Canadian-made stuff—which wasn’t necessarily the goal, but it’s really exciting to be able to offer.”
How about the competition? “The more the merrier,” says Murphy. “People like to shop around, and I don’t think you can have a viable downtown without shops catering to parents and children.”
Further afield you can find Coo Chi Coo (655 Topsail Road) whose best seller is jogging strollers, and Bellies and Bundles Maternity and Baby Boutique (286 Torbay Road) whose opening we covered in February.
So how are all these stores doing? Just fine apparently. They’re all playing on the same field, but they’ve all got something that sets them apart. Murphy says she gets customers referred by other stores, and she returns the favor if someone asks about a product she doesn’t carry.
High and growing demand is a big part of the kid store growth spurt, but it seems they also provide a kind of specialized social space. Sure, if the weather were better and there was a playground downtown, things might be different, but for now, these shops are where it’s at.