I’m sure I wasn’t the only parent who read that New York Magazine piece last year, “The Best Place to Live In NYC,” and raised an eyebrow when it ranked Greenpoint schools among city’s best. Who knew this little enclave, much maligned because it abuts a toxic creek and is serviced by the most ridiculed subway in New York, was really a great place to raise kids?
Melanie Sawyer has been in on the secret for 11 years now, which is when she moved to Greenpoint so that her sons could attend the top-ranked P.S. 31. Now, Sawyer, who works as a baby wrangler on commercial shoots for clients like Toys “R” Us, is starting a donation-only playgroup today for newborns to preschoolers at the Greenpoint Reformed Church Hall at 136 Milton St.
PLAYTIME! Brooklyn is held from 11:30-1:30 on Mondays and Fridays, the days that the Greenpoint library holds playgroup and storytime sessions for babies and toddlers. (The Friday Toddler Time at the Library is so crowded, you have to get a number in the morning to reserve a spot later that day–a good indication that the neighborhood is bursting with babies.) Sawyer will set out tents, tunnels, kitchen sets, baby mats and other toys that she’s amassed through her work, and invite the Greenpoint librarians and others in the neighborhood to help lead the sessions. She plans on hosting informative talks for parents too, like preparing your child for school.
The cost is less than the typical $10 fee of any indoor gym–just $5 per child, $8 for families–and that’s just a suggested donation, all of which goes to the Greenpoint Food Pantry managed by the church. Sawyer says PLAYTIME! wasn’t a reaction to the new slate of kids spaces like PLAY and The Gym Park that have opened in the area. Starting a space for a “plethora of families”–those who can and cannot afford a typical drop-in fee–has been a long-time dream of hers.
“Children are my passion, and my other passion is helping people. Put the two together and I can make a lot of people happy.”
She’d even like to expand the concept in other neighborhoods if more moms approach her.
This do-good community vibe runs throughout Brooklyn, but the strain in Greenpoint feels a bit mellower, even a little hippie. “I feel like it’s a small town in the middle of a city,” says Christine Onorati, owner of WORD, who has watched the neighborhood fill up with families since she moved here in 2005. Now people often stop in and ask her if she sells children’s clothes. “No, I say, we’re a bookstore.” But it’s only a matter of time, she predicts, before a kids clothing shop joins the other Franklin St. boutiques.
Nearby, at 272 Driggs, a store for new and expectant parents is set to open the same weekend that Onorati has organized a free reading with the famous midwife and author Ina May Gaskin, a hero to many moms drawn to natural childbirth. When Gaskin reads at Warsaw March 6–an event 150 people have already RSVP’ed for–Caribou Baby will be open across the street.
As conceived by owner Adriane Stare, a trained doula with a degree in urban policy and management, Caribou will serve as a supply store for natural childcare products like glass bottles, lanolin, cloth diapers, organic onesies and a wide selection of baby wraps. (Stare spent four days at the BabyWearing Institute in Utah to teach women how to really fasten those free-form wraps, so they don’t have to rely on the instruction booklet alone.) The store will also offer classes on everything from natural childbirth to cooking classes, a treatment room for massage and accupuncture, and a cozy, living room-esque lounge where moms can nurse and kids can play.
The inspiration for Caribou came from a similar business called The Stork Store on Manhattan Avenue, which opened in 2008 — “The first evidence that families were moving to Greenpoint,” Stare says. When it shuttered a year later (not because of lack of demand) she decided to open her own natural parenting place.
Stare and her husband moved to the neighborhood in 2005 before kids were in the picture. (They now have a boy who, incidentally, was homebirthed.) The price was the selling point–property was cheaper than in Williamsburg, where she’d lived for years. Schools were not. “We weren’t thinking that far in advance. It was only after moving in that we realized that the school is really great.”
Now, while she doesn’t differentiate between Williamsburg and Greenpoint that much, she does think of Greenpoint as a “little haven.”
“The community is a little smaller and tighter-knit. It feels like this secret that people are starting to pick up on. For those people who have chosen to move here, there’s a common understanding that it is a great neighborhood.”
And the G, she says, is actually a good train.