Home With the Kids, Selling the Latest From New York

Barb Brody started Barbie B in her home in Potomac after burning out during her time as director of public relations and fashion for Hecht's.
Barb Brody started Barbie B in her home in Potomac after burning out during her time as director of public relations and fashion for Hecht's. (Photos By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Cari Shane Parven
Special to the Washington Post
Thursday, October 13, 2005

For years, stay-at-home moms have traded lives in the professional world for the domestic responsibilities of children and household.

Now many Montgomery County women have found that stay-at-home businesses can offer a balance between careers and family. Such businesses give their owners something they couldn't find in corporate America: flexibility.

"We can stay at home with our kids but also work and have a job that allows us to be in the adult world," said Jill Sosin, 38, of Potomac, a former lawyer who is co-owner of Blue Elephants, which sells clothing for children.

"I needed the flexibility," said Kerry Iris, 45, co-owner of Whichcraft Galleries, based in Chevy Chase. "And my children like it, too. When I am in shows, I come home with clothes, presents that I need to buy. It's one-stop shopping."

Some of these entrepreneurs gathered recently for their twice-yearly shopping boutique in the Potomac Community Center's auditorium.

Customers pushing newfangled baby carriages and tending to crying toddlers mingled among the counters displaying scarves from France and trinkets from California, tie-dyed baby clothes and personalized blankets, cell-phone jewelry and radio pillows. Like the retailers, many of the shoppers were stay-at-home moms.

"I shop here because I like to support women who run their own businesses out of their home," said Amy Gross, 38, of Darnestown, who held her crying toddler while trying to make purchases.

"I like spending money at a small business rather than a big store at the mall," said Erin Boccia of Potomac, who was waiting for some colorful and fuzzy radio pillows to be tissue-papered and bagged at Barbie B, a Potomac business selling merchandise at the event.

"The typical suburban woman doesn't go down to Georgetown to the boutiques," said Barb Brody, 40, who, with her mother, Joyce Sachs, 65, of Bethesda, owns Barbie B. "Coming . . . to the shows saves them a trip to the mall, where they may not even find these trendy accessories. It's a convenience."

Brody, who said she burned out after years as director of public relations and fashion for Hecht's, said Barbie B took away the stress of being told where to be, when and for how long. "There were the pressures of travel . . . three or four days every month," she said. "It started to feel like I couldn't cope with it. There was too much anxiety. Finally my husband said find another job."

Aware that her friends had always commented on the merchandise she brought back from her New York trips, Brody decided to start a business in 2000.

Nearly 8,000 businesses in Montgomery County hold trader licenses allowing them to sell purchased merchandise, but the county does not differentiate between licenses for at-home retail and store-based retail. Brody estimated that the number of at-home retail stores in the county could exceed 200.

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