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Thursday, July 13, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Lite

Play area? Cookies? That's a mom kind of store

Special to The Seattle Times

Attention, retailers: To get my money, you'll have to go through my kids.

Seduce them, make it snappy — and feel free to brag about it.

I shop with my children because I have to. I believe the rise in online shopping can be traced to moms who would rather surf the Web while Junior seals his fate as a vidiot than wrestle him into a car seat, then a stroller, for a not-so-leisurely day at the mall. Gone are the days when my mother could let five children run amok in Southcenter Mall, confident that despite her best efforts we would all find her in time for a ride home.

To make it easier for parents like me to spend serious cash in your stores, start wooing me in the parking lot. Follow the lead of the genius who came up with "stroller parking."

Inside, help me corral my charges in your carts and strollers. Wow me with fancy upgrades like carts that hold two kids and sanitary wipes for the handle. Don't make me mad with multiple broken safety buckles, lazy wheels or aisles that don't fit my stroller or two carts side by side.

Your Greeters are widely parodied, but I enjoy them. While these perky wonders irk some shoppers, I prefer to think of them as Catchers. More than once they have caught my little escape artists ahead of me.

My kids adore strangers with candy (thank you, Sephora, Bank of America, certain design showrooms). Embrace the marketing power of the pint-size Home Depot apron, a stuffed Nordy or Krispy Kreme Doughnuts hat. May I suggest a Starbucks sippy cup? You give me a discount when you fill my kid's cup with hot chocolate. Why not brand it? (Don't forget my commission.)

Used as a bribe, a reward or even lunch, food and beverage are critical. Rare is the grocery store that doesn't allow virtuous pre-purchase consumption. My local QFC cashier knows just what to do when presented with a "banana dilemma." He doesn't flinch when I hold up two limp peels; he simply weighs two more — duh! And if you ever discontinue the free kid cookie in the bakery, hearts will break.

Target offers stain-free white cherry Icees in its cafes, animal crackers in the toy department and multiple beverages and snacks near checkout. They get it — mostly.

Ikea delivers with its kid-friendly restaurant and the ultimate mommy oasis, an in-store supervised play area. My only complaint is having to choose between my hearing and my purchases if I don't beat the buzzer back to my kids. Give me 10 more minutes, Ingemar — your store is BIG!

Costco is the indisputable King of Snacks. At Costco, my kids are so busy playing with noisy books (I swear! The shrink-wrap was already off!) while scanning for their next food sample that they hardly notice the hours I spend looking at everything but necessary groceries.

At the back of your store my children will require a pit stop. Why make me drag my kids past the exit to use the restroom? Poor potty placement leads to abandoned-cart syndrome. Give us family bathrooms, and posh nursing lounges like those at Nordstrom. I value the little-known bathrooms at the back of Pottery Barn, GapKids and Right Start in Bellevue Square.

Most of your restrooms have flip-down changing tables. But too often the straps are torn, the liners are gone and there is no diaper pail. Thank goodness for stores with emergency diaper packs. But what's up with no toilet-seat covers? I am talking to you, Target.

While I am in your care, please make it easy to take my stroller from floor to floor. Make sure your elevators are clearly marked. I hate having to plan ahead to make strategic use of spotty elevator coverage.

Speaking of placement, it's nice when stores have a kid area. It is not nice when these distractions are out of sight. I recently left Gymboree empty-handed, because instead of shopping I had to watch my child watch a video.

You can seal our relationship at checkout, if I make it that far. I hate standing in line, so please don't allow idle employees to taunt me by clustering nearby for a chat while my children squirm and I fume about bad service. Do me a favor; add squeeze-top water bottles or juice boxes to checkout-lane cooler units. To ensure my children's undying loyalty, give them a sticker or stamp their hand with a smiley face.

And remember, once you've hooked my kids you're family!

Heija Nunn is writer living on the Eastside: heija@heija.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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