Child Development Store Tries To Stay Alive

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Natural Resources, a pregnancy and child development store in San Francisco for almost 25 years, is asking community members to help keep its doors open.

The store and classroom space for parents at 1367 Valencia St. has launched a campaign to raise $45,000 in 20 days to keep afloat at a time when parents are spending less, fewer children live in the city and birth rates are declining.

“At this point I have tried everything I could think of to keep Natural Resources going, and nothing has worked out as planned,” store owner Cara Vidano wrote on the campaign page. “The amount I am asking for is the minimum we need to keep Natural Resources open. Because of this, all funds will be returned if the goal is not reached.”

For parents, Natural Resources is more than just a retail shop. It is place where they can interact with other mothers, learn about childbearing and have their anxieties assuaged.

At the shop, mothers can weigh, change and play with their children, or take classes on anything from changing diapers to infant massages.

“Thanks for being there to help me as a new mom, for giving me a place to weigh my son, get needed supplies, learn, meet other parents and nurse my baby in the rocking chair,” reads one comment on the website, from a woman who identified herself as Parousha.

“For many parents, it’s their home away from home,” said Bobbi Williams, a store employee. “Yesterday a mother was here for two hours because her house was getting fumigated.”

The store, formerly in Noe Valley, relocated to the Mission in December 2006. It has a loyal audience — as evidenced by the more than 180 people who had donated close to $9,300 as of Friday night — but not enough customers to stay in business while offering its wide range of services, Vidano said.

The market for its services has simply declined. When the store opened in the late 1980s, birth rates in San Francisco were on the rise, with more than 10,000 newborns in 1988, ’89 and ’90. But those were peak years for the county, and the number of births has declined every year since then. In 2010, births dropped to 8,800, and the state estimates that number will be 8,557 for 2011. By 2020, the state estimates that births will drop even further, to 6,771.

At the same time, the number of children under five years of age in the Mission District has dropped 17.9 percent, from 3,042 in 2000 to 2,497 in 2010, according to the census.

Vidano, who was formerly a psychologist for the city’s school district, herself benefited from the store’s services. She was pregnant in 2005 and wanted to learn more about natural births.

“It allowed me to make the best decision, how I wanted the birth,” she said. “I think as a result I chose a midwife and a place that was suited for me.”

Vidano bought the shop in 2006 and takes pride in what she does. She and others noted that, several years ago, she tested the toys’ toxicity. When one of the toys had a minuscule trace of lead, she returned it to the manufacturer, who was thankful for her discovery.

Only a handful of shops like this exist in the city. The Mission, the store owners said, is a great place for a parenting store because it is centrally located to neighborhoods with the most families. The majority of customers are from Noe Valley, Bernal Heights, Glen Park and the Mission.

Their services are especially needed in the city, store employees said, because San Francisco parents typically have kids much later in life — 30 years or older — and have moved to San Francisco for a job. That means they are likely new to parenting and away from their families.

“It can be an overwhelming process,” said Williams, the store clerk. She has fielded all sorts of questions, from how to properly use a breast pump to the difference between cloth and recyclable diapers.

The store not only provides information, but is also a place where parents’ anxieties — such as worrying about whether the baby is gaining enough weight — are addressed by other parents and staff.

“We tell them that it’s normal,” said Claudia Vidano, Cara’s mother, who also helps out at the store.

That’s the owner’s biggest reason for keeping the store open.

“This is make or break,” said Cara Vidano. “With this money, it’s very likely we will be around for many more years.”

Christy Khoshaba contributed to this report. 

Filed under: Business, Front Page

7 Comments

  1. tim

    Maybe they can do things for fathers, and not just for mothers? Then they would double their customer base.

    • luna

      this place is really overpriced. They should work to meet the needs of people who live in the mission instead of catering to the wealthy elite of SF.

      • SimonSays

        Totally agree. The selection is sparse and overpriced.

      • JS

        This store absolutely works to meet the needs of the local community in the Mission.

        Anyone is free to stop in to nurse, change diapers, use the baby scales, browse the excellent resources, meet baby-related professionals and other parents and have free tea and snacks.

        If anything, Natural Resources should be focusing on selling more baby goods/services so they can support this open and caring community (even though the focus is more on providing support than selling things). Perhaps you should get to know Natural Resources better – by at least reading the website or stopping by to see what free and member-supported services they have to offer – rather than sling around cliched San Francisco class labels like “wealthy elite of SF”. Membership, by the way, comes to about $8/month for the first year and then about $4/month therafter.

        That said – given the focus of the business and its roots to the community – I think it would be more sustainable to become a non-profit and to try to expand its services and member base.

    • Lisa

      They do – they have a dads support group on Sunday afternoons and I see lots of fathers in there with their kids. It’s just that it’s usually moms who stay home with the babies more at first and who go in for the support.

  2. randolph mortimer

    so what happens when the $45000 runs out, since their business model apparently isn’t sustainable ?

    maybe they should become a nonprofit ?

    • Flor

      Renaissance Entrepreneur Center has a great program to help reshape the business model and find new ways towards sustainability. WISE is another one, and located right in the neighborhood too.

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