Volume 17 • Issue 19 | October 01 - 07, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

From left, Tracey Frost (a Franklin St. resident), Silvia Campo and Tara Gordon Lipton, founders of “Citibabes,” a new club for mothers and preschoolers to open in Soho next September.

Everything under one roof

Tribeca mom-to-be and friends offering kids classes, fitness center and a spa

By Marisa Lowenstein

Before motherhood, Silvia Campo and Tara Gordon Lipton indulged in the pleasures of Manhattan living. As working women, they dined in the finest restaurants with ease, arranged and kept beauty appointments and they maintained a regular fitness routine.

But past pregnancy and deep into life with toddlers, their lives were drastically changed. The norm now was sleepless nights, endless days of isolation and packing and unpacking tote bags brimming with snacks, formula, and diapers.

They realized that being a mother today can be isolating, even for women with resources, because the neighborhood networks their mothers enjoyed no longer exist. Then they got an idea.

Teaming up with recently pregnant Tracey Frost, a Tribeca resident, they set out to create a space that would nurture young children while offering moms companionship, a way to exercise, nutritious food and even some pampering. Scheduled to open in September 2005, Citibabes will be a 10,000 square foot space located on Mercer St. in Soho.

Frost, who lives on Franklin Street, said that living in Tribeca was a big motivator behind the desire to create Citibabes.

“You can’t walk down the street here without seeing families with small children” she said. “My next door neighbor has three kids under five.” And the neighborhood is growing still.

The women initially sought to locate Citibabes in Tribeca, and while they settled on the Soho location, they believe they will still draw heavily from the neighborhood. They also expect to be popular with families in the Financial District, Battery Park City, the Village and the Lower East Side.

After tapping their collective business experience from years in global banking, Campo and Frost understood that their project required another perspective if it were to be truly successful. That’s where Lipton came in. A former elementary school teacher with a masters in early childhood education from the Bank Street College of Education, Lipton brought the hands-on expertise that would transform Citibabes from a business plan to a legitimate place of growth and learning for children.

“You need structured activities and Citibabes gives that security” says Lipton. “You go there and you are guaranteed something.”

The yearly family membership fee will be in the range of $1,000 and will offer mothers, dads and caretakers unlimited access to Citibabes’ fitness center, playspace, and computer center. It also includes one hour of free babysitting each day.

The rest of the programming, will be pay as you go. Kids under five will have a chance to participate in a diverse curriculum developed by Kelly Crosby of the 91st Street YMCA. Citibabes is determined to move past story-time and sing-alongs with classes in music, art, dance, science, karate and foreign languages.

Mothers can use this precious time to get an overdue manicure, run on the treadmill or simply read a newspaper or magazine. They can also participate in yoga or Pilates classes. Trained professionals will care for the kids during mom’s time off, but the founders emphasize that Citibabes is not daycare. Parents and caregivers are not permitted to leave the premises at any time.

Campo, Lipton and Frost are in the unique position of being their demographic — they do not have to guess what mothers need because they live it every day – and learning how to be the best parent possible is one of their primary objectives in developing Citibabes. The private club will feature a family wellness center overseen by Dr. Michel Cohen. Parents will be able to take a variety of classes including the basics of breastfeeding, how children’s diets should change as they grow and CPR.

Combating the isolation of motherhood is a main goal of Citibabes. After discovering that parenthood can become lonely quickly and that most Manhattan restaurants are not designed to accommodate the energy of young children, Campo, Frost and Lipton hope to create a space where kids can run around free and noisy and like-minded parents can connect.

“I didn’t know any other moms and all of a sudden I was home alone with my child,” says Campo, who is pregnant again.

The women hope that Citibabes will allow mothers to focus less on what their children are touching or who they are disturbing and more on cultivating friendships. A space for birthday parties and an in-house party planner also give moms other alternatives outside the apartment.

In an effort to become a one-stop-shop for parents and kids, the mothers behind Citibabes have been working for over a year to ensure that they have thought of everything. Members will be encouraged to spend all day at Citibabes. Beyond classes for moms and kids, the site will also feature a full indoor playground and a comprehensive retail store. The shop will sell Lucy Sykes’ new baby clothing line and a variety of troubleshooting items including snacks, diapers and toys.

“How many times have you felt like the worst mother in the world because you forgot the snack?” asks Campo.

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