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For two moms, babies mean business

There's nothing like childbirth to inspire entrepreneurship for Cindy Kuhn and her daughter, Nikki Connell.

After Connell gave birth to her son, Chris, seven years ago, she and her mother started a preschool so Connell wouldn't have to be away from her newborn son.

Faced with the same dilemma this year after the birth of Cody, the mother-daughter duo started Bloomers Maternity Wear. Cody has his own crib and toys in the back of the new retail shop on U.S. 19.

"I've told her she can't have any more babies because I don't have any more money to start any more businesses," Kuhn joked last week.

It's a joke because the pair is expecting their retail shop to be as successful as their Sugar Plum day-care center has been. Facing burnout after spending two years with scores of children under 5, they sold that business to the grandmother of one of the children enrolled in the center.

They're hoping the new business will be a little less stressful. After nearly two months, things are looking good, they said.

"Everybody who comes in is real happy to see that there is a maternity place to go," Connell said.

Like the pair's first business, pregnancy provided the inspiration for Bloomers. Connell worked at a title company while she was pregnant and had trouble finding professional-looking maternity clothes that weren't too expensive.

"It was really tough," she said. "Unless I wanted to wear leggings from Target or spend $80 or $90 a dress. . . . I was so frustrated. All I had were solid T's and solid pants."

Connell found the selection of maternity clothes to be limited everywhere, especially in Pasco. She had to drive to specialty shops in Tampa and Clearwater to find everything she needed.

Her problems finding a good selection of affordable, attractive maternity wear sparked the idea for the business.

"There is a definite need for it here," she said.

So the pair went looking for a place to set up their second business. They found it in the shopping center that also houses the Outback Steakhouse.

Then, armed with cash Kuhn was awarded by Pasco County after she sued for wrongful firing from the Sheriff's Office, the pair went to a clothing market in Atlanta and begin ordering inventory.

They were surprised with what was available.

"I couldn't find anything like that when I was pregnant," Connell said. "You think if they don't see it in the stores they just don't make it."

Connell and Kuhn bought things that they liked and even picked up a few things they didn't, but thought that others might.

"That was our first time. We didn't have a clue what we were doing," Kuhn said.

They already know they made a few mistakes, they said. They bought a lot of less expensive sportswear and fewer career dresses, thinking that the Pasco market might be more casual-oriented. The next time they plan to buy more career clothes because that clothing is even less available to women in Pasco. Also, there are several banks nearby where women employees are not allowed to wear pants to work, they said.

"We have had a lot of calls for the dressier stuff," Connell said. "A lot of women have graduations or weddings to go to. And some people have asked for suits."

In addition to sports clothes and career clothes, the shop also stocks maternity underwear, nightgowns, pantyhose and swimsuits.

"That (maternity swimsuit) is the one thing women don't want to try on," Connell said. "It must be a mental block."

But they have had some customers ask for two-piece swimsuits _ an item they didn't buy because they never expected there would be a demand for it.

"There was no way I would be caught dead in a bikini pregnant," Connell said.

For the most part, the pair have found their new clients to be easier to deal with than their former, preschool set. Yet pregnant women, with their spiking hormones and ballooning figures, have their ups and downs too.

"You get them in here and they are just miserable and then you get them in here and it's just sunshine and roses," Connell said, shaking her head.