Baby, business is really booming

August 27, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

Nursing manager Kim Barnes jokes that if she could rip out all the telephones in the rooms of new mothers at Howard County General Hospital "that would probably be the first thing I'd do."

Since 1987, the number of births at the hospital has more than doubled, from 100 to 250 infants a month. But the numbers of bassinets -- 21 -- and nurses on staff -- 33 -- have stayed the same. And, competing for a new mother's attention against endless congratulatory phone calls is just one of the pressures Barnes and her staff face.

"We're really limited in that we're here for eight hours, and the patient turnover can be 12 a day," she says. "We're trying to prepare [new mothers] for discharge."

Howard County's baby boomlet may have been the most dramatic in the region in recent years, but all of the suburbs of Baltimore have seen large increases in the numbers of their residents under the age of 5 years, according to the 1990 Census.

The region's only other age group with so dramatic a jump in size during the past decade is that of people over 65. A whole class of businesses and services has prospered based on serving preschoolers and their parents. And the pressures on local government to provide good schools has been oft-chronicled.

In Anne Arundel County, the preschool population grew by 27 percent during the 1980s; in Baltimore County, by 32.4 percent; Carroll, 49.3; Harford, 45.4, and Howard, an astounding 84.8 percent. The only jurisdiction that hasn't seen a great increase is the city of Baltimore. The city's increase in children under 5 years of age was only 8.8 percent.

Donna Lasky says that when she and her husband decided to buy a house, Baltimore, where they were living, was "out of the question."

"We knew we were going to have kids," says Lasky, now the mother of an 8-month-old. And, she says, living in the city with its questionable schools would have meant sending their son to private school. They moved to Baltimore County.

Frances Callahan, 27, says she and her husband were considering an apartment in Charles Village but ruled that out after she learned she was pregnant with Patrick, now 8 1/2 months old.

"There was no grass, and the muggings were starting to pick up," she says. The family, instead, chose a place in Catonsville.

But if all this child-bearing hasn't benefited the city, it has been a boon for business.

At the Tender Age Boutique in Towson Town Center, co-manager Lorraine Gutmann says the store has seen sales grow about 35 percent over the past seven years -- good considering that the center has undergone a disruptive major remake. When the mall expands soon, the store plans to move to a space almost twice as large as it now has.

"Babies," says Gutmann, "are a flourishing business."

Gutmann also says that her customers are increasingly older mothers, many of whom got their careers on track before starting a family and have more money to spend than did parents a generation ago.

"That has had a definite impact on the economy of children's retail," she says.

Child care, another major shift in parenting reflective of the past decade, also can't keep up with demand -- nor is it cheap.

Last year, Maryland parents spent an average of $75 a week for full-time care for children under 2, according to a group that studies the issue in Montgomery County. In Howard County, the average weekly cost of child care was nearly $105.

"I've had calls from people who aren't even pregnant yet," says Susan Bath, coordinator of LOCATE: Child Care in Baltimore County, a statewide resource and referral service for people seeking licensed day care.

"I always say, 'How is it that children aren't turning 2?' It seems that all the kids in Baltimore County are under 2."

"The lack of infant care in this county is something I get calls about all the time, from parents who want to put their child on a waiting list," said Jeanne Page, executive director of Open Door -- a child-care organization for children who need supervision before and after school -- and chairwoman of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce Child Care Committee.

"Now . . . there's less hope for people on waiting lists," she says. "I know that sounds awful, but it really used to be that they'd turn over a little bit. And they just don't move."

Government services such as libraries have felt the preschool pressure, too. Attendance at children's programs at the Baltimore County Public Library has increased fivefold since 1985, says Kathleen Reif, coordinator of marketing and programming. The library has also changed many programs so that parents can participate with their children.

And at the Baltimore Arena, suburbanites who don't venture to the city for nearly anything else are the first buyers of tickets for children's shows, spokeswoman Edie Brown says.

"When there's a new event, like with the [Teen-age Mutant Ninja] Turtles, everyone I ever knew comes out of the woodwork and becomes my best friend," she said, "because they want their kid to have a good seat."

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