BENNINGTON -- A small retail shop in Bennington's downtown is thriving by providing local families with "green" alternatives to baby care and by offering an array of children's activities and educational classes for adults, according to the owner.
Jennifer Leggett and her husband, Russell Leggett, first started their business, Earthy Crunchy Mama, in 2010 with the launch of their online retail site and blog, earthycrunchymama.com.
The small business has since expanded with the 2011 opening of a brick and mortar location at 227 River St., and the acquisition of a connected retail space this fall alongside North Street.
Jennifer Leggett, who resides in North Adams, Mass., explained that her business came to fruition to fill what she believed to be a niche that was lacking when she was pregnant with her first child and living in nearby Hoosick Falls, N.Y.
"There was nowhere in the general area to buy cloth diapers, baby carriers and breastfeeding stuff, so we were having to travel all the way down to Albany, Latham and Clifton Park to buy them," she said, noting that those were all items she was either using or her children, now 3 and 5 years old -- needed in order to adhere to the "Earthy Crunchy Mama" ideology -- the idea, she explained, that parenting is carried out with respect to both the environment and personal health.
When the business opened online, Leggett said she and her husband began selling baby carriers, breastfeeding supplies, cloth diapers and the like, right out of their dining room.
The couple soon outgrew the space as their business began to flourish, and thus, both versions of the Bennington retail spaces came to be.
With the recent expansion of their store, even more room was created to house their newly purchased baby carrier line, a large selection of cloth diapers (and all the accoutrements), shelves of biodegradable laundry products and all natural baby care products, racks of consignment maternity, baby, and children's clothing, and even a designated space for an in-house family photographer.
More than a retail space, Leggett said she believes her business also serves as a community resource for local parents.
With a full offering of parenting classes and a midwifery clinic sharing office space just next door, Leggett said many customers often seek advice from the doulas, or midwives, on everything from birth planning to breastfeeding and postpartum care before, after or during shopping trips.
In addition to parenting resources, Earthy Crunchy Mama's new, larger space also houses a gated-off play area for children and a community space for children's art, music, and yoga classes, and, new this year, children's birthday parties.
"There just seemed to be a lack of "mom and baby" activities in the area and not a lot of free activities. We wanted to make that available here," Leggett said, noting that the play area is free for parents to utilize whenever the store is open for "drop-in" play. "When it's wet and cold or snowing out, you can't take your kids to the park and the library only has a few things going on, so it's just nice for the parents to be able to come here and let their children play in a safe space."
Just before entering the community play area, however, it is impossible to miss the expansive display of colorful cloth diapers lining the right-side wall.
Leggett said that cloth diapers, a big seller in her store, have evolved into a much hipper commodity than the preconceived image of simple cloth diapers and pins of yonder years.
The newly designed fabrics and funky prints offer both fashionable and functional options for babies, while also, apropos of the store's name and philosophy, acting as an eco-friendly diapering option for parents.
According to Leggett, approximately 25.2 billion diapers end up in U.S. landfills each year and are the third largest single consumer item within those landfills, making up four percent of solid waste.
Despite their increased popularity, cloth diapers are not easy to find, according to Leggett.
"Stores that sell them are definitely few and far between," she said, explaining that she sees customers from New York City, Albany and as far north as Rutland in her store.
Leggett added that cloth diapering, as opposed to disposable diapering, is a drastically more affordable option for the one tenth of all parents who choose to do so.
"Most people who come in that are using disposable diapers are spending somewhere around $80 a month, whereas if they cloth diaper, they could probably spend as low as $250 on diapers which will last them two and a half years. That's a huge cost savings," Leggett said. "You're only talking about an extra two or three loads of laundry a week. Most people wash about every other day, so it's not that much extra effort."
Paying hundreds of dollars for diapers up front may seem extreme to some parents, especially when the cost of washing the diapers is taken into account. However, Leggett said that now that her own children are potty-trained, she hasn't noticed any significant rise or fall in utility bills as compared to the days when she was doing the extra loads of laundry.
For parents who may be on the fence when it comes to cloth diapering their children, Leggett said the store offers a newborn cloth diaper rental option.
"We rent out the tiny little newborn cloth diapers that only fit for about the first six pounds or so, then the parents wash them, send them back, we disinfect them and get them ready to go for another baby," she said. "This gives the parents a chance to try out cloth diapers, see if they think it's for them and if it will be manageable. (The option) has been pretty popular so far."
In the coming year, Leggett said she hopes to convert a small room within the store into a laundry room that, ideally, would be utilized by low-income families.
Leggett, who has a background in social work, attempts to make her products accessible to low-income families already by offering a 10 percent discount to all Women Infants and Children (WIC) cardholders, however, the laundry room would take her efforts one step further.
"When we get the washer and dryer, I hope that families can come in, show their card and have access to our laundry facilities," Leggett said. "I really want to do this because one of the biggest barriers for low income families considering cloth diapering is the fact that they don't have access to a laundry facility and the Laundromat is astronomically expensive."
While the laundry services at her store would not be free, Leggett said the cost would be low.
"What I really want to do is create a welcoming environment for parents and families, let them know they're free to come and go and that we're here for support," she said. "We don't just sell stuff. We're here to help in any way we can."
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.