BROOKSVILLE — Children grow up fast. And in this economic downturn, its tough keeping them outfitted.
But two local moms have found a creative way to make a little money off their children's too-small shoes, clothes, furniture and toys while preparing for the future at a very reasonable price.
Happy Happy Hippos, a seasonal children's consignment sale organized by sisters-in-law Cindy McWilliams and Stacey Thomas, is scheduled for next weekend at the Hernando County Fairgrounds.
"With the economy the way it is, moms who have never consigned or shopped at a consignment sale are trying this as a way to help their budget," said McWilliams, 36, a stay-at-home mom of four.
Parents can shop for such things as gently used Game Boy games, preschool-age books, toddler shoes, changing tables, cribs, strollers, clothes from infant to children's size 16, and maternity clothing. The event will take place Friday through March 14.
"I tried to sell stuff on Craigslist and people would say they wanted it, but then never show up. It was a huge hassle," said Thomas, 33, a mother of two small children under age 5, with a third due next month.
"I tried selling stuff on eBay, but shipping was a pain," she said.
While researching local consignment shops on the Internet, the Pasco County resident said, she stumbled onto a Web site from Virginia, advertising a "Seasonal Children's Consignment Sale" where local moms were able to buy and sell stuff at a weekend-long event.
"I thought that was a great idea, and started thinking maybe we could start something like that," said McWilliams, who then approached Thomas. The pair held a few community consignment sales in Tampa, but when Thomas moved to Hernando County, Happy Happy Hippos moved, too.
And the biannual sales, one in spring and one in fall, have grown over the last year, attracting hundreds of buyers and sellers from as far away as Gainesville, St. Petersburg, Orlando and Lakeland, said Thomas. Next weekend's sale is the third one for Hernando County.
"Last sale, we did all our Christmas shopping," said McWilliams, whose husband, Robert, a computer network technician, was laid off early in 2009 and only recently found employment. The family was struggling to stay afloat.
"I think other moms had the same idea about shopping for Christmas, almost all the toys sold," said McWilliams.
McWilliams and Thomas started Happy Happy Hippos as a money-making venture. They have not yet turned a profit, Thomas said. But organizing the event does have its perks: They get first dibs on all merchandise and the joy of emptying out their kids' closets, selling everything and anything they no longer need.
During last September's sale, mother of three Jennifer Griffith, 28, consigned nearly 300 items, selling a stroller, infant walker and infant clothing, bringing in nearly $200. She was able to turn that money around and purchase a toddler bed and stock up on toys for Christmas.
"It is a lot less expensive to buy used," Griffith said. "Having children has made our family very budget conscious."
What doesn't sell, with permission from each consignor, is donated to A New Generation, a Christian-based center that offers free pregnancy tests, parenting classes, adoption assistance and peer counseling. The center features a client store stocked with donated items.
This year, McWilliams and Thomas hope to add a Happy Happy Hippos Holiday Sale to the schedule. Not only will children's toys be featured, but they are expanding to accept holiday decorations such as Christmas trees and lights and holiday outfits for children.