When Jennifer Bouma was born in 1977, her mother Paula Bouma found herself in trouble. A fire department clerk, she could not find a store in Santa Barbara that had what she needed for her newly arrived firstborn.
“She couldn’t find a store that had everything. That had strollers, car seats, baby clothes, baby bottles,” Ms. Bouma told the News-Press.
Working for the fire department was never her true passion, and so Ms. Bouma’s mother gathered her inventory little by little and eventually created Chicken Little, a complete children’s store.
Now in its 40th year, Chicken Little, 1236 State St., is a one-stop-shop for all things children zero to 10.
The store has everything from strollers to cribs, Legos to science projects, costumes to diapers. Adults visiting the store will recognize classics from their childhood, like the book “Goodnight Moon,” and will find the latest gifts taking the world of kids by storm.
The most popular items are for babies — blankets, bottles, strollers, car seats. For the older kids, scooters, glide-bikes, and play kitchens are a big hit this year.
Chicken Little also runs a store in the MOXI Museum downtown.
Ms. Bouma and her brother Gregory Bouma grew up helping out at the store.
“We cashiered, we stocked, we were free labor!” she said.
Ms. Bouma never expected to end up owning the store, but after she graduated from UCSB and worked for Staples Corp. in San Diego, her mother asked her to come home. Getting on in years, Ms. Bouma’s mother wanted someone to take over the store.
“I said, ‘Let’s sign a year contract and see how it goes,’ ” said Ms. Bouma.
A year later, she was hooked.
“It was just meant to be in life,” she said.
Ms. Bouma fell in love with the store, especially interacting with customers and their children.
“It’s such a happy place to be. Every day I come home and I’m like, ‘I had the best day ever,’ and I do!”
Ms. Bouma and her brother have now run Chicken Little for 20 years.
“My brother and I are perfect partners,” she said.
Mr. Bouma likes to be behind the scenes running internet operations, accounting, and handling payroll.
“I like helping the customers, working with the vendors, and doing nothing behind the scenes. Only having human contact,” laughed Ms. Bouma.
Over the years they’ve brought some changes to the store. Chicken Little has moved away from its original stock of baby furniture and maternity clothes, especially since the recession of 2008 forced many of their furniture manufacturers to close. Now the largest part of the store’s inventory is geared toward fun for kids.
“A lot more inventory of toys, and games, and books. Just like the more fun everyday items,” Ms. Bouma said.
Like many retail businesses, Chicken Little has adapted to the internet age and offers all its inventory on its website. Customers can also create registries for baby showers through the store, which accounts for most of the website’s traffic. When the registry is created, Chicken Little will set up a crib in the store with all the items requested.
“You can go in, take what you want from your crib, and then we’ll wrap it, and then you’re good to go,” said Ms. Bouma.
Parents to be can even get a tour of the store, with instructions on how to assemble strollers or use equipment.
However, Chicken Little bucks the retail trend and still does more business in store.
“People come in searching for our advice on products and different age groups. They just love the customer service. We do the complimentary gift wrap. I just think that out of any gift that people want to buy in person, they want to buy a baby kid’s gift because it’s so much fun,” said Ms. Bouma.
The quality of products has also contributed to Chicken Little’s success. Ms. Bouma’s expertise and knowledge helps her pick top quality items when she’s updating inventory, which happens every day.
“There’s so many things that you can buy, obviously, online, but when you get them you’re like, ‘Oh, these are such poor quality,’ ” said Ms. Bouma, “At Chicken Little we only carry the best of the best. We edit everything out of every category, because in every field there’s just so much junk out there. You need someone to edit it all and only carry the best of the best”
The store has all the latest toys, even the hot items from Shark Tank, but Ms. Bouma said the classics will always be around.
“People just want well-made, tried and true products.”
By renting out 35 nursing pumps, donating to local preschools, and providing passionate customer service, Chicken Little has become a place for Santa Barbara’s moms, new and old, to go for advice and support.
Every holiday season, Chicken Little stocks the latest trends for kids. This year, customers should watch out for Frozen 2-themed gifts.
“It’s like the second coming. All the girls are ready,” laughed Ms. Bouma.