What recession? Chic baby’s clothing store staying afloat in tough times

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What recession? Chic baby’s clothing store staying afloat in tough times

Feb. 16, 2009

By Matt Schrader

Stacy Bernstein rolls out of bed every morning and heads to work, with a coffee in one hand and what she says is the same excitement she’s always had for helping children.

The 41-year-old former Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school teacher now spends the majority of her time managing her children’s store on Santa Monica’s Main Street.

Brightly painted picnic tables and wooden bookshelves make up most of the shop’s décor, with popular hardcover children’s books accounting for most of the store’s artwork. In between “A Pocket for Corduroy” and “Where the Wild Things Are” are dozens of “higher end” infant and small children’s clothes — from $45 T-shirts to $120 jackets.

“We try to have a hip, sophisticated look,” said Laney Rosin, also a former teacher, who co-founded the shop with her sister-in-law Bernstein.

But despite the cheerfully colorful décor and trendy feel, it is the large wooden tree in the back corner of the store, alongside a two-foot-high miniature mailbox, that encapsulates the attitudes of the two teachers-turned-owners.

Though they originally had meant the tree simply as decoration, Rosin quickly found a way to turn it into a children’s story of its own.

The 26-year-old University of Michigan graduate added a small mailbox to the tree, where children could slip in their letters to the tree’s resident, “Harper the Chipmunk.”

“Little kids can write him letters, and then the next time they come in, Harper will have written them back,” Bernstein said. “We like to make sure, with our little kids’ space, that they’re always entertained.”

The unique approach in retail sales has boosted traffic in the store considerably, according to Bernstein, and has become a huge hit with the kids.

“We’ve had some kids who are visiting from London and they wanted to write, and [Harper] now mailed his first international correspondence,” said Bernstein, a graduate of Boston University.

Although both owners said they could go back to teaching at some point, they said they strive to inspire children in any way they can.

Every month, Harper Lane sponsors special events in a shady, foliaged courtyard adjacent to the store, including book readings, music sing-along concerts and even cooking classes.

Bernstein says the special efforts she and Rosin make for kids in the community are part of a long family tradition of charitable business.

“My father is very old-school, and he believes in strong customer service and that’s one of the things that he sat down and taught to me initially,” she said. “We want a strong-rooted business in our community.”

Bernstein’s father moved from New York more than 40 years ago and started a wholesale foods business, while Bernstein’s mother owned a business in the fashion industry.

“My family always had a little bit of [entrepreneurial business] going on,” said Bernstein. “It has been very active in our lives, and in getting involved with the community.”

The owners of Harper Lane — which is named after Bernstein’s middle name, Harper, and Rosin’s first name — said having family with previous business experience is beneficial, but that it doesn’t offset today’s economic turmoil.

“Even though my parents had businesses in the financial crunch of the 90s, it’s nothing like it is now,” Bernstein said. “We’re definitely hitting some of those hurdles — that are more like mountains.”

Still, Harper Lane’s founders say the economic turmoil has complicated things, but not shaken their principles of helping the community.

Bernstein said her store is continuing to participate in drives and fundraisers to help local benefits and charities.

“We’ve gotten involved with six other businesses on Main Street for Earth Day, we did something to raise money for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles last September, so kind of all different things,” she said. “And we have something coming up hopefully with L.A. Food Bank in March.”

“We’re not a ‘green’ store, “ Bernstein said, “but where we can bring in products that send those kind of messages, we try to promote them in our store.”

Regardless of the efforts, Bernstein and Rosin have taken it upon themselves to do what they feel is right, though it’s not always the most popular or economical.

“It was something that my family, as business people, really influenced us to do,” Bernstein said.

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