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Alameda Business Focus: Monkey Bars

Submitted by on 1, February 11, 2011 – 12:05 amOne Comment
Alameda Businesses - Monkey Bars - The IslandMother of a 5-year-old boy, Monkey Bars owner Heather Reed is committed to providing eco-friendly, sustainably sourced baby and children’s products for busy parents.

By Heather Lyn Wood

Heather Reed is really excited about environmentally friendly baby products, and she’s not afraid to let it show. One visit with Reed at her store on Park Street confirms her enthusiasm. An Ohio native and longtime Bay Area resident, Reed was an employee of Monkey Bars in 2008 when she learned that its owners were planning to close the store.

“I was a single mom at the time,” she said in an interview. “I was really struggling. I had nothing, but I was like, ‘No, this store has to stay open. I’m buying it.’”

Three years later, she still has a gleam in her eye about Monkey Bars — the products it provides, the parents who trust her to find them, and the babies and children who use them.

The petite boutique on Park Street specializes in “feeding, clothing, and diapering solutions for the busy but Earth-Conscious parent.” Mother to a 5-year-old son, Reed says she has experienced firsthand the anxiety that accompanies wanting to keep a small child as safe as possible.

“It’s a balance,” Reed explained. “If you think about toxins and safety constantly, you drive yourself insane. But you want to know that the things you’re using are safe. I go crazy so you don’t have to.”

The Island - Local Businesses - Monkey Bars

Photo by Heather Reed.

To fulfill this promise, Reed offers eco-friendly and toxin-free alternatives to conventional children’s wear, toys, and a wide selection of other supplies for parents. She purchases sustainably sourced goods and buys local whenever possible. When she does buy goods made overseas, she makes sure to have direct, firsthand knowledge about where and how they are made. Reed believes that many companies want to manufacture their products in the United States, but feel that it is not economically feasible to do so before establishing themselves in the U.S. market.

“A lot of people really hope to move their operations back here after developing a strong customer base,” Reed said.  “So when I buy from those companies, I’m hoping to also support them in that goal.”

A tour of Reed’s store showcases a “who’s who” of green baby accessories, an industry that has boomed in the last few years. Many parents visit the store shop for Sausalito-based Life Factory glass products, a line of glass baby bottles free of known harmful chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, and PVC. The store also carries bECO baby carriers, made by a company which promises ethical working conditions and minimal environmental impact. One of Reed’s favorite offerings is the BOB Jogging Stroller, a line she has carried for two years.

“I love this stroller,” she said. “I want everyone to know about it. We’re getting the redesigned 2011 line in, and we’re proud to announce that.”

The Island - Local Businesses - Monkey Bars

Photo by Heather Reed.

Reed is candid about the price of the BOB — it retails in the $400 range — and she understands that not everyone can afford that price tag. But she believes in the product. And what she believes in, she wants in her store. Reed also is adamant that Monkey Bars is a healthy place for kids to play.

“It’s important to me to have a safe, clean store,” she said as she opened a bottle of Grab Green, a cruelty-free biodegradable cleaning solution that smells of thyme and fig leaf.

Because Monkey Bars is a place frequented by new parents with questions about how to keep their children safe, Reed sees the store as “more than a retail store.” In the coming year, she hopes to broaden its focus to include parenting resources and health education. She has arranged for a licensed acupuncturist to present a series of workshops at the store focusing on nutrition, digestion and fertility — issues she believes are of interest and importance to expectant and new parents. She also plans to design a space in a sheltered part of the store for nursing mothers. Both efforts are in line with her focus on practical parenting and her goals as a community member, she said. She values the store’s 2010 Best of the Bay and Best of Alameda accolades, and feels confident that it will be recognized again this year.

“I want people to know that we’re here for them, that they can come hang out and ask all their weird questions,” she said with a smile. “The more people, the better.”

Monkey Bars, 1339 Park Street, 769-6905. www.shopmonkeybars.com

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