MONCTON – Larissa Flanagan started Close To The Heart five years ago to help make ends meet when she didn’t qualify for maternity benefits as a single mother. Her online store, which was named the Best Babywearing Store in Canada by Babywearing in Canada this year, has now opened a storefront location at 1966 Mountain Rd.
“The move to brick and mortar was just really what I wanted to do in life and where I saw my business going,” she said. “I just wanted to connect more with my customers and really build a sense of community here, especially with our workshop and our community space.”
Flanagan’s store is divided into two sides: a retail space in the front and a community space in the back. The retail space includes a play area for children. Most of the products being sold are fit for children under six years old.
In the back, there’s a large space with a couch, tables and chairs for workshops and community events.
“We’ll have lots of different workshops that will be going on, from eco-friendly workshops to infant CPR, to kids’ paint nights. In the other half of the space, we also have lactation consultants and baby wearing consultants that will be using that space,” Flanagan said.
This community aspect of the store is important for Flanagan. Not only does she focus on handmade products from local businesses like Eclair Lips and East Coast Stitches, among others, but she also hopes the workshop space will help makers connect with each other.
“I was just kind of looking at different revenue streams and I knew that I wanted something that can support handmade makers because it can be so lonely working from home,” she said. “So it’s just to offer them a space that they can come and work and get out of the house and connect with other moms. I just wanted a sense of community.”
Flanagan’s own handmade products, including custom baby onesies and dishwasher-safe mugs, are also being sold in her store.
The store has been in the works for about a year, she said, but renovations took about six weeks. The mother of two daughters is now working out of the shop with two employees and plans to hire one part-time person.
Flanagan started the business because she wanted to stay at home with her daughter for as long as she could after she gave birth to her. At the same time, she said it’s difficult for single parents to return to work because of high daycare costs and high living costs.
“I was living out of savings and I realized that wasn’t going to last as long as I thought. So I started a handmade business just to make a couple of extra bucks here and there, but it just kind of blew up and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said in an interview with Huddle in June.
The online store is still running and will be updated closer to Christmas, but for now, Flanagan is focusing on the new storefront.