There's one man in town who dispels the advice of thoughtful seers urging zero population growth. Like a baby loves his teddy bear, Siggy Notes savors babies. After all, his livelihood depends on them.
Notes is king of the baby-outfitting business here. Lining the aisles of his five Crib n' Cradle stores in paraphernalia to make infants look as dapper as Donald Duck and fully equipped to meander through the trying trails of babyhood.
All the hot items on the baby accoutrement market, from inflatable tubs to collapsible cribs, can be found on the stores' pastel-painted shelves. Baby food and disposable diapers are the only baby accessories not sold at Crib n' Cradle.
With more than 10,000 cribs and 6,000 strollers sold last year, business is booming. And despite the recession, it shows no signs of letting up.
"We're always trying to stay caught up with ourselves," says Notes, whose office, adorned with toys and children's pictures looks more like a nursery than the workplace of a corporate executive. "It's so easy to see the rug slipping out from under you when you're growing as fast as we are."
Since Siggy's father, Philip Notes, borrowed $400 from friends and local banks to break ground on the first store at Georgia and Missouri avenues NW, the 27-year-old business has grown into a rich enterprise.
Gross sales, which barely topped $100,000 in 1964, hit the $5 million mark last year. In the last year alone, the company has grown 51 percent, and the younger Notes predicts by 1990 Crib n' Cradle will be a national chain sporting a mail-order catalogue and shipping services coast-to-coast.
Crib n' Cradle stores' miniature furniture and accessories are tailored to infants and young toddlers. Once children turn 3 years old, they'll soon outgrow the stores' merchandise.
But until he does, Notes and his 35-member sales team will outfit the baby with clothes and furniture, toys and wall decorations.
Selling baby furniture and accessories is no simpler than selling cars or stereo equipment, say the sales staff.
Each stroller collapses differently; while one crib converts to a chest of drawers, another turns into a desk. High chairs can be inverted to serve as play tables, and there are enough varieties of passifiers to fill a grocery cart.
"People soon realize this isn't a self-serve operation. People need as much guidance buying the right crib as buying the right car," says the younger Notes.
His family photo albums, which share a bookshelf with business manuals and accounting ledgers, tell the story of Crib n' Cradle from its birth one hot summer day in 1953 to its thriving adolescence today.
Philip Notes, who calls himself an adventuresome and brave entrepreneur, says he ran the first store like a Mom-and-Pop grocery. Son Siggy manned the office on weekends while his father delivered the prior week's purchases. Philip's wife, Annette, shared the management responsibilities at the first store.
Seeing a need for more space, the Georgia Ave. store moved to Silver Spring in 1964. By the mid 1970s, Crib n' Cradle had four 12,000-square-foot branches in Maryland and Virginia locations. Last year, the firm opened a store in Baltimore and plans another to open next year; three more stores -- one in Richmond and two in Tidewater -- are on the drawing board.
In addition, a distribution center with luxurious general offices will open next spring in Manasses, allowing Crib n' Cradle to mushroom beyond its recent weed-like growth, Notes says.
Notes attributes the company's success to the transience of Metropolitian Washington's population and to a well-designed advertising policy. The firm spent close to $200,000 last year for local newspaper adds.
While Toys-R-Us and Best Products Co. Inc. stores sell some baby merchandise, Notes has a virtual monopoly in the metropolitan area. In fact, many cities throughout the country are without baby furniture specialty stores, like Crib n' Cradle.
As a result, Notes daily gets requests for furniture and unusual baby accessories -- orthodontic passifiers, for example -- from people in rural communities and in large cities.