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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New retail, resource center for new parents

Forty-five hundred square feet might seem like a lot of space for a bunch of babies.

But in creating their “natural parenting” retail and resource center Bella Cova, Heather and Tony Villa came up with a long list of needs and wants they aim to meet, both for babies and their parents.

Bella Cova opened in June in the former Caterina Winery location on the ground floor of the Broadview Dairy building, 905 N. Washington St. Its calendar includes support groups for mothers of multiples and “daddy dudes,” and yoga, hypnobirthing and breastfeeding classes.

“Empowerment is a big theme, obviously, here,” Heather Villa said.

Bella Cova, translated from Italian to “beautiful nest,” was conceived as a hub for new mothers and families, Villa said. It sells products, but it’s also meant to serve as a sort of community center where parents can meet with one another, educators and treatment providers.

Villa said she was inspired by her own childbirth education and two other Inland Northwest resources: Mother’s Haven, a retail shop and support center for new parents in Coeur d’Alene, and Bloom Spokane, an online clearinghouse of resources for families as they move through pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.

Tine Reese, who founded Bloom Spokane about five years ago, said she thinks the timing is right for a business like Bella Cova in Spokane. Since the creation of Bloom in 2009, pre- and postnatal options for parents – childbirth classes, prenatal yoga or massage, breast-feeding support – have expanded in Spokane, Reese said.

“There’s been an awareness raised about all these great things parents can do to prepare for birth and to get through successfully that first year with your baby,” she said. “There’s a desire that’s been created to have these things.”

Along with specialized baby products available in a brick-and-mortar store – where parents can try on a baby sling and get instructions on its use, for example – they seem to crave a sense of community, Reese said. While Bloom’s website can offer information, and the organization pops up occasionally as a physical entity with meetings and events, “people still longed for a physical space,” she said. “They would always ask, ‘Is Bloom going to have a store? Is there ever going to be a building?’ ”

Along with a retail shop stocked with cloth diapers, breast pumps and organic bibs and burp cloths, Bella Cova houses the Stork Market Café, an espresso bar and a lending library.

The “milk bar” offers breast-feeding supplies and space for women to test pumps and seek help from lactation consultants. The “nurturing room” offers a private, rentable space where massage therapists, midwives and others can meet with parents and babies.

The yoga studio doubles as a movie-viewing room. The play area for children has a slide and chalkboard wall. The meeting space is outfitted with comfortable chairs, and parking spots for strollers and toddler bikes are outlined on the floor under a wall hung with larger-than-life photos of pregnant, henna-painted bellies.

The Villas plan to add a small specialty grocery market and to offer catering for meetings and events booked at the space.

One day last week, a very pregnant woman just leaving after a massage – her water had broken and she was trying to induce labor – said goodbye. Tony Villa got in his car to follow her home, to make sure she got there safely. A midwife passed through, members of a mothers group talked among themselves and the occasional baby hollered.

Later, craniosacral therapist Rinzen Shay Kruger led Lindsey Dicken and her 12-day-old daughter, Kennis, into the dimly lit nurturing room. Dicken wondered if Kruger could help her newborn open her mouth wider for nursing. Craniosacral therapists use light pressure to try to release restrictions in the craniosacral system, the membranes and fluids surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

That there’s a lot going on in Bella Cova is no accident, Heather Villa said.

As a concept, the business got its start after the birth of the Villas’ son, Leo, in September 2011. After a home birth and having trouble breast-feeding, Heather Villa drove to Mother’s Haven in Coeur d’Alene for help.

“It was amazing support, just being in this room with all of these women who had newborns or babies,” Villa said. She also admired the retail portion of the business, stocked with cloth diapers, nursing bras, baby slings and other items “you wouldn’t find at Babies R Us.”

To Villa, it makes sense for parents to be able to pick up a book about breast-feeding where they take birthing classes where they also can get prenatal massages and meet other parents for coffee and kid play dates.

“I thought, why would you stop at just a retail store?” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want to have the whole deal?”

Bella Cova’s retail section also stocks plant-based cleaning products and natural remedies, such as teas formulated to treat morning sickness, sought by women restricted from pharmaceutical use. Villa said amber teething necklaces have been a big seller (while there are skeptics, fans of the necklaces say oil released by the beads and absorbed by babies’ skin relieves sore gums).

It’s keeping a support-group wish list, Villa said. Suggestions have included meetings for single mothers and working mothers. Bella Cova’s calendar includes evening classes to accommodate working parents and babies’ unpredictable nature.

“Sometimes you need nursing help at 5 o’clock on a Saturday,” Villa said. “So we have a 5:30 Saturday class.”

The Villas bring diverse experience to their venture. Spokane native Heather Villa, the former lead singer of 6 Foot Swing, worked as an advertising account executive at the Inlander newspaper and in retail before that. She earned a marketing degree from Whitworth University. Tony Villa, a Michigan native and Navy veteran, has worked at the Post Street Ale House and the Safari Room, among other restaurants. Daughter Liliana is 5, and Leo is 1.

Heather Villa said that she’s met many women who are, like her, in their 30s or older, having babies after establishing careers. She didn’t necessarily expect to become a proponent of natural parenting, but the techniques and views she heard about from others made sense to her.

“To have a home birth and to live with a natural-parenting type of mind frame – cloth diapering and nursing and co-sleeping, any of those things – they sounded like they were really hippie,” she said. “But it’s just really natural and getting back to basics that are much easier on the mamas.”