Babies may not come with owners' manuals, but there are thousands of gadgets and accessories available to parents trying to make heads or tails out of their precious bundles of gas and high-pitched screams. From miracle blankets to white-noise machines to vibrating bouncy chairs, the array of products for the youngest among us is endless.
Yet, there is one area of baby rearing where parents are left out on a limb: wholesome nutrition. Local entrepreneur Darren Gann noticed this disconnect a couple of years ago in the unlikeliest of places.
"My Yorkie got sick, and we took him to this holistic pet store, where the staff recommended a special brand of frozen food," he says. "When we left, I remember saying to my wife — almost as a joke — that I wished there was a similar store for our baby."
Gann began to research the possibility of creating such a place — something to bridge the gap between the big-box stores like Target and Babies "R" Us and the small, exclusive boutiques that only offer a limited selection of products. After operating a kiosk at SouthPark mall for a year, he opened The Baby Grocery Store in a 6,500-square-foot building in south Charlotte on Monday.
"It's like a Whole Food for babies," he says. "We offer only organic, non-GMO products so you don't have to worry about putting harmful toxins or pesticides into your child."
TO YOUR LEFT as you walk into the store is a large room furnished with comfortable couches and chairs: space for a shopping momma to sit and nurse her baby. But it's also a community center where parents take classes on things like cloth diapering and lactation or host baby showers and play groups.
Gann points to a wall of empty bookshelves and talks about his vision of creating a parenting book swap system where moms can donate and borrow literature on things like sleep training, attachment parenting and toddler discipline.
Across from the community center is a big open kitchen with a farmhouse sink and enough counter space to make any homeowner envious. Although Gann plans to offer weekly baby-food cooking classes, the main purpose of the kitchen is not to host demonstrations. "This kitchen is for the customers to experiment with our products hands-on," he says.
Not sure if your baby will be into the pear, kiwi and spinach blend? Open it up and let her have a taste right in the store. Did you forget to bring a spoon? No problem, here's one specifically made for infants out of plant based materials. Need to clean up after she spits it up all over your shirt? Of course you can help yourself to the sink.
FOR LOCAL MOM Jessica Bezner, the most exciting thing about The Baby Grocery Store is its extensive inventory of cloth diapers — 18 brands in total. Bezner decided to use cloth diapering on her first daughter, 4-month-old Amelia, mostly for financial reasons. "We knew I would be a stay-at-home mom and the budget would be tight. I'm also not a fan of the chemicals in disposable diapers," she says. "The cute fluff butt [from cloth] doesn't hurt either."
She knows of one small, local store that carries cloth diapers, but she always bought her supplies online. "Now that The Baby Grocery Store has come to town, I'll probably be buying anything else I need for my stash from there," she says.
Gann has found that a growing number of families are choosing cloth, even if it's just on a part-time basis. "The worst thing you can do for your carbon footprint is use traditional, disposable diapers," he says. "They take 500 years to decompose. Even if you just use one cloth diaper a day, it makes a huge difference."
As a mom who briefly tried cloth diapering and failed — chalking it up to a practice meant for more nonconformist parents than myself — I ask Gann if he believes there are enough crunchy, hippie parents in Charlotte to keep him in business. He doesn't know, but assures me that his store is not meant for just for that type.
"I don't think that the people making organic, environmentally conscious choices are in the minority," he says. "Of course we're going to get the crunchy, hippie parents, but I also want the parents who have never considered cloth diapering before to come here, see our selection, talk to our staff about how easy it is, and give it a try."