Parents committed to recycling, consumer research find retail affirmation at Southeast Clinton Street shop

Raise your hand if you've ever looked at the price tag on a baby sweater and thought, 'Yikes! That's more expensive than the sweater I'm wearing!'

Tara Herndon has tapped into that thrifty mind-set by providing slightly used children's clothing at much lower prices.

Her shop at Southeast Clinton Street and 26th Avenue is named Piccolina Ñ Italian for 'little one.' The term could just as well refer to the size of the clientele as to the size of the shop itself, a space of less than 800 square feet.

She sells recycled clothes, toys, strollers, cribs, changing tables, highchairs and playpens, and a small selection of used books for and about kids and parenting. And, of course, you'll find stacks of cloth diapers and diaper covers, the latter costing $15 to $18 new, as opposed to $3 to $5 used.

'Every parent likes a different brand, and a lot depends on the size of the baby's thighs,' Herndon explained. 'Parents don't know what's going to work on their kid until they try it out for a few days. This way they can try out different sizes without investing too much money.'

A stop on neighborhood walks

Formerly a midwife, Herndon already was immersed in the world of babies. Ironically, the birth of her own baby made pursuing her midwife career much more difficult. She bought the shop, formerly called Angel Kisses, and rearranged it to suit her own ideas. Having her own shop has allowed her to have her baby at work with her and keeps her in touch with other mothers.

'My clients are mostly stay-at-home moms who are on walks with their kids,' she said. ' They bring their kids in and plunk them down in my little play area while they shop.'

Most of the merchandise is for sale on consignment, sometimes brought in by the same mothers who are buying the next largest size for their growing child. But Herndon doesn't buy everything that walks in the door. She says no to items that are stained or ripped or just look too worn.

'It's the hardest part of my job,' she said. 'I hate turning people down. And I completely didn't think of this when I opened the store. I try to be nice about it. Sometimes I say, 'I can see that must have been your favorite.' '

In the end, the customers are grateful because they know they're going to find top-quality used goods when they shop there.

Fresh inventory is a draw

Besides being able to count on the like-new condition of the merchandise, customers also can expect to see different items each time they stop in. Herndon keeps items on a two-month cycle. She's found that if something hasn't sold in two months, it probably isn't going to.

More important, if the customers see all the same stuff they saw last time they were in, they'll get bored and look elsewhere.

'I always have new things,' she said. 'It keeps the store on a good cycle of coming and going.'

Though she hits the occasional garage sale, she finds herself doing so less and less. By now she depends almost completely on the public to stock the store, selling items on consignment for the clients who bring them in.

After one month, an item is marked down 20 percent; after

6 weeks, 40 percent. After two months, the owner can either have the item back or choose to donate it.

What does she do with all the inventory that she 'cycles out'? Periodically, she calls the Oregon Department of Public Health, which will come pick up the latest pile of unpurchased clothing and supplies and provide them to families in need.

'I love this community,' Herndon said of her little Clinton Street corner. 'The people are friendly, and it's full of interesting shops. I've already joined a book club and a 'girls' night out' group through the store.

'And these folks in this neighborhood want what I'm offering Ñ it's cheaper, it's local, it's environmentally sound. Those are the kinds of values that people have around here.'

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