Filling demand for help with baby planning

There are plenty of distractions as child development and parenting education specialist Joanie Nolen (front, back to camera) leads her weekly education and support group meeting for first-time parents at Nest.
There are plenty of distractions as child development and parenting education specialist Joanie Nolen (front, back to camera) leads her weekly education and support group meeting for first-time parents at Nest. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 30, 2013

Since launching My Fabulous Mama baby-planning service nearly three years ago, Philadelphia mother of three Marisa Piccarreto has been essentially nursing a fledgling industry in the city.

As she has advised expectant parents on preparing for the most life-altering event in their lives, Piccarreto often has referred them to merchants and experts specializing in what they needed - from nursery furniture and car seats to lactation guidance and cloth-diapering techniques.

She's now become part of the competition, though she doesn't see it that way.

"I'm trying to supplement what's not being offered," Piccarreto said last week as a steady rain kept foot traffic to a minimum in the former Graduate Hospital neighborhood where she has opened a storefront. "It's about providing something people need."

And in Philadelphia, thanks to reproducing millennials, that need is strong, feeding a growing small-business trend.

Rather than a city from which new parents run, Philadelphia has become a magnet to young families - at least until the children become school age. And these parents want in their neighborhoods the retail and service support to raise their offspring, said Daniel Korschun, an assistant professor of marketing at Drexel University's LeBow College of Business.

He also speaks from experience as a city-dwelling father of a 3-year-old daughter, Sofia.

"If you look at the Census Bureau statistics, there is still a healthy proportion of households with children and young families," Korschun said. "And all of the anecdotal evidence is suggesting that parents want to stay in the city and are looking for ways to stay in the city."

It is a trend that the founders of Nest took note of in 2011, opening what was believed to be the city's first membership-based, child-oriented all-inclusive. At the time, Philadelphia had boutiques that specialized in children's clothing and baby items, but not pre- and post-natal services, and others that featured toys.

Nest rolled it all into one - and then some - in a facility on the 1300 block of Locust Street that even offers discounted parking. Its website describes Nest as "an all-in-one urban oasis for play, socialization, snacks, shopping, and learning," serving up to age 10.

It has a shop, a kids' salon, a cafe, and play areas and offers a variety of classes, such as infant massage, yoga, dance, and cooking.

Noting that Piccarreto, who lives near the Franklin Institute, is a member, Jessica Downes, Nest's manager of sales and marketing and a Washington Square mother of a 20-month-old son, said she welcomes Piccarreto's new business.

"The more, the merrier," Downes said. "People choose what works for them."

In a former restaurant space on the 1600 block of South Street, My Fabulous Mama began selling infant and maternity clothing, and a small line of toys, books, and parenting accessories, in November.

In January, the basement area will open as a parenting center, featuring a range of educational and support services, including music classes for children ages 6 months through 5, parenting coaching, and lactation support. More will be added to meet demand, Piccarreto said.

"This is something that's been part of my vision for a while," she said.

Not that she expects her relatively limited stock to become My Fabulous Mama's dominant revenue source. She expects that will still be from her nanny sourcing, preschool consultations, and other baby-planning services.

Piccarreto sees the retail space, which she has on a two-year lease, as more about "building community. I love this neighborhood."

And it's about outreach - another way to capture baby-planning clients beyond her web site, www.myfabulousmama.com, parenting blogs and word of mouth, Piccarreto said.

With it, of course, come the worries she didn't have working out of her house. That includes the time demands of running a store that is open Wednesdays through Sundays.

"This would have been much easier before having children," said Piccarreto, whose charges are 3, 5 and 6.

In fact, to get some shopping done on a recent weekend, Piccarreto dropped them off at Nest - where Downes watched them. And when Downes was pregnant with her son, Zachary, Piccarreto advised her on strollers.

The city "could house a whole lot more" child- and parenting-related businesses, Piccarreto said.

Shortly after saying that, a man came into My Fabulous Mama looking for a wearable baby carrier for his sister's newborn. Piccarreto had none in stock, so she handed him a business card for Cloth, a natural products baby store on East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia that opened in June.

Angela Shaw-Halperin, owner of Cloth, has returned the favor: "I have been to her store a couple of times - most recently to make some purchases for my son for Christmas."

While the city is "far from" oversaturation in the parenting-store niche, Shaw-Halperin said she wouldn't mind it inching closer and closer to it.

"It would be nice if Philadelphia became known as a city with excellent resources for parents and parents-to-be," she said.


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466

@dmastrull

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