If you were born or had a baby in southeastern Connecticut in the last three decades, chances are you've met or know Carol Pennell.
And if you've had a child in public school or had your hair colored in the last 20 years, you also might know Amy Camassar and Holly Pennell-Salegna.
But what you may not know is that these three women - a longtime registered nurse, former public school teacher and former hair salon owner, respectively - co-own a Norwich-based business that caters to all things baby.
Papoose, a natural maternity and baby store, originally opened in March 2007 in a small medical building on New London Turnpike. Within six months, the store outgrew that space and its trio of owners began looking for a new site. By Oct. 1, the former two-story baby blue house at 82 Salem Turnpike was transformed into Papoose's
One room in the new building has gear intended to make expectant or new moms comfortable, from colorful, long-sleeved tunics to nursing tank tops and belly wraps. Another has baby and toddler shoes, clothing and cloth diapers, diaper bags and feeding equipment.
The owners, or the handful of staff they employ, greets each customer, many by name, as they walk through the door. Every conceivable space is filled with items that are geared to help welcome new babies into the world or ease the transition from expectant parents to new parents.
The store also has a large number of baby carriers.
Pennell-Salegna is the shop's buyer, largely because she has road-tested a wide range of the products Papoose sells.
"Eleven years ago, it took me two weeks to learn how to use my first sling," says the mother of three. "Every four years I've had a baby on my hip, back or boob, or was wearing one. It's good to know how to use more than one carrier, and I know what works."
The personal touch is what's made Papoose popular among parents and what entices customers to return to the store, the owners say. It was also the basis for the store's creation.
Pennell, a registered nurse and international board-certified lactation consultant, retired in 2006 from The William W. Backus Hospital after 32 years of service. During that time she developed a good working relationship with many of the doctors and midwives in the region, so the calls to her didn't stop once she stepped off the hospital's grounds.
"I'd get a call at home telling me that I had to see this mom, but I live out in the boonies, so when the weather was bad or when it was dark, it was not working for them to come all the way out to my house," explains Pennell. "We had to find a place."
Around the same time, about three years ago, Camassar and Pennell-Salegna met while their children were attending a Montessori school. They learned they shared many of the same child-rearing philosophies, such as attachment parenting, co-sleeping and nursing, along with having their children attend a school in which the students are directly involved in creating their educational atmosphere.
"I shared with Holly that I was meeting resistance from my in-laws and family about letting my son 'cry it out' and about him sleeping with us. But there was a highly footnoted article in Mothering magazine that co-sleeping helps children feel self-confident and independent, knowing that they have a strong base to come back to," says Camassar.
"People think it's taboo to sleep with your children but it's done all over the world. It's so natural," she adds. "Only here are we so uptight."
Pennell, the longtime nurse, agrees. "Allowing a baby to cry? That just makes me feel awful. Here, we advise parents to follow their hearts. That is how you learn to be parents."
Knowing what worked for them is the driving force behind many of the support groups and classes the three women offer at Papoose.
Childbirth and breastfeeding, along with sign language and infant massage, stroller fitness and yoga baby classes are offered throughout the week. In addition, support groups for new moms, green home and gardening, and cloth diapering groups are held regularly.
Because support helps improve the chances of success for nursing mothers, Papoose runs a 24/7 "warm line," a phone line that is manned by a live lactation consultant who fields questions throughout the day, and night, about breastfeeding.
"Parenting is not a 9 to 5 job," explains Pennell, of the likelihood of a question or concern rising at nine o'clock on a Saturday night.
The willingness to extend themselves is what makes Papoose unique, and one of the features that secured their listing as one of the top 200 mom-owned businesses by the organization StartupNation.
"This is not just a store," says Camassar, "but a place where moms can feel comfor- table with our support, programs and pro-ducts. We have whatever (you need) to make your parenting experience with your baby safe and wonderful.
"We are women and moms who run a business," says Camassar. "And we can do it all."
82 Salem Turnpike, Norwich
10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Wednesday, and Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday; closed Sundays.