Tadpole: A Modern Mom-and-Pop Shop on Clarendon Street
Owners of the children's store, Tadpole, are thriving as a family and as business owners in the South End neighborhood.
If your image of a mom-and-pop shop doesn’t quite match Tadpole, then you and David Hauck are of the same mind.
Mr. Hauck is half of the husband-and-wife team that owns the “modern children’s store” on Clarendon Street. But he’s not exactly the little old guy manning the register, and his business is no crowded hole in the wall.
Yet as longtime transplants to Boston who feel grounded in a neighborhood they love, and have built both successful work and home lives around it, this mom and pop – Storey Hieronymus Hauck and David Hauck – have created a version of the American dream here, right in the South End.
Neither of the Haucks set out to be brick-and-mortar business owners, much less Internet merchants. When Ms. Hieronymus Hauck’s high-level boss left her job years ago, Storey took a leap and quit to design jewelry. After seeing an abundance of talent at the trade shows she was attending, in 2003 she opened Turtle, an apparel boutique to showcase new designers.
David credits Storey’s entrepreneurial bent for later filling another need in the neighborhood, when she decided to serve the growing number of families with young children in the South End. In ‘06, the couple still owned Turtle (which they’ve since sold; the store is now located on Newbury Street). To help open Tadpole, their second business, David used some vacation time from his job as a newspaper editor. He never intended to become a Tadpole employee. But when the Haucks realized that this new baby was going to be a little under-parented, David joined Storey and quit his desk job, too.
Like many a small business owner, the Haucks have used their home for financing, and experience has been the teacher. “Turtle’s contribution was things we’d learned along the way,” says David, since it was not as if their first store’s profitability could support the second business. “Tadpole had to fend for itself.”
The store has evolved – going from one address to two, and now consolidated to one space at the corner of Clarendon and Chandler Streets, one block from the Back Bay. Tadpole is spacious inside, but filled with a carefully selected collection of toys, books, clothing, and practical items – from $2.50 flushable wipes to strollers in the four figures. Since last fall, Tadpole has offered cribs and other nursery furniture, which is a bit of a victory over the finite space available in the city. Customers may not be, but David is keenly aware of everything that the store is not – crowded with a lot of junk that’s on the market. He resists any urge to cram in more, to keep the shopping experience pleasant and calm.
Today, David puts in solid days at Tadpole, plus late-night hours spent at the computer at home in pajamas. The store has three cherished full-time employees. Storey does less time at Tadpole (and is unpaid) but keeps the books and travels occasionally as the store’s clothing buyer – plus she’s a full-time mom. And this is my favorite part of their tale: Three years after Storey established her second retail business, the kids’ store, she and David became parents.
Finally, David could stop answering “Not yet,” when people in the shop would ask if he himself had kids. Access to a world of things to buy for their own child is a perk to owning the store, but David says that his daughter isn’t the spoiled beneficiary of it. When there’s a toy that nobody wants, “sometimes she gets the rejects.” And having a daughter has “helped us get better at what we do,” he says. Being city condo dwellers and parents puts the Haucks squarely in the shoes of their customers.
There are no plans for Tadpole’s global domination, and with a renovation not quite completed for the lower level of the store, David’s not interested in expanding with another Tadpole. “I’m completely satisfied,” he says. Visitors sometimes suggest opening a store in a different part of Boston, but David says he’d feel like an interloper. “I just don’t know other parts of the city as well.” As it stands, the business depends on drawing customers from beyond the South End, as well as the website. While lamenting two different competitors’ recently closed stores in the metro area, David wrote on his store’s Facebook page, “It makes us even more grateful to our customers for supporting us for more than six years!”
It’s not a business plan that enables the Haucks to live lavishly, but they work on maintaining that oft-discussed balance, and David believes in being hands-on. “It’s difficult to turn it off completely. We have no other source of income. You have to put in as much energy as you can.” Then, he refers to the multitasking you end up doing when you have a preschooler at home: “On my days off, the laptop is open. Then, you go and play Chutes and Ladders again.”