Credit: Maureen Cassidy

Alison Dodge, Lea Wolf and Carolynn Schwartz, , Happy Bambino

Happy Bambino - the name alone conjures visions of healthy, pink-cheeked babies and smiling, confident parents. It's the perfect choice for a store specializing in "bellies, babies and breastfeeding." Co-owners Alison Dodge, Lea Wolf and Carolynn Schwartz strive to promote sustainable practices, provide community resources for parents, and sell healthy, safe, eco-friendly products for children and babies. It's the perfect business for Madison.

When they opened their Atwood Avenue store eight years ago, Dodge, 35, and Wolf, 33, were short on experience. But, says Dodge, both shared a vision of "a place where parents could a) get needed help for early parenting and b) connect resources with people, so they're not so alone."

Getting there wasn't easy. "It was a tough sell for the banks," says Dodge. "You're going to sell cloth diapers? Yeah, and nursing bras." So they conducted their own survey, and the hundreds of positive responses helped convince the bankers to take a chance.

Good choice. Happy Bambino quickly became the go-to place for parents looking for information and support as well as toys and goods for their children. It proved so popular, in fact, that it outgrew its Atwood Avenue location, moving to its present site on Monona Drive, in the Lake Edge Shopping Center.

Dodge and Wolf were joined in 2008 by Schwartz, 41, who'd been one of their customers. Schwartz handles the retail side, while Dodge and Wolf concentrate on the resource end. Their current offerings include African dance for kids, mom and baby yoga, an ongoing breastfeeding clinic, a working-moms networking group, and an assortment of playgroups.

What sets Happy Bambino apart from other enterprises? "We are a for-profit business," says Dodge, "but we're very mission-driven. We really care. Our bottom line is always being of service, providing a good resource. There's symbiosis between our resource activity center and our retail store."

Happy Bambino is celebrating its eighth anniversary by throwing a big shindig Nov. 4 at the High Noon Saloon. Bring the family; at Happy Bambino, you can be sure you'll all be welcome.

- Michana Buchman