Downtown Perspective: A Day With Ariana Spaulding

Brick and mortar retail shops have been taking a beating recently, as online retailers take change consumer spending habits. Too often these retailers glorify free shipping and faster delivery, but rarely talk about the removal of the human experience and benefit of shopping with trusted community partners. This was a significant topic of discussion at a recent conference that I attended, and I decided to turn the tables and put some good press out there for our retail champions in the community. Who better to feature for this month than Ariana Spaulding? Ariana is the proud owner of EcoBambino, and if you haven’t discovered her shop at 863 Monterey Street, you need to pop in. I would be willing to bet there are children in your life that will appreciate the great wholesome children’s products that Ariana carries.

With my podcast co-host Zoya Dixon, I sat down with Ariana to get to know her a little better. (You can listen to the full podcast below.)

Downtown Perspective (DP)
How did you come about starting EcoBambino as business Downtown?

Ariana Spaulding (AS)
I started EcoBambino after a toy recall involving lead-based paint in toys. My son had just been born; the recall caused me to start doing research on products for kids, and my trust in longtime trusted brands was violated. I discovered small companies that were doing amazing things, [like] creating products out of reusable materials and giving back to their communities. I am a terrible online shopper, but that was the only way to find these products. I thought I wanted to start a store, but was not sure about that venture. But there was a real need for a children’s store in town.

I started in a small closet and grew into a booth at Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market, but with a store upstairs it was really challenging for parents with strollers. They would park their stroller and come up the stairs and visit me. Being at The Market was a good way for me to ask questions of people and see what they wanted, so I could get the products that people wanted for their children.

I really wanted a shop and finally found one, and opened in September 2010 with a 2,500 square foot space that I was worried about filling. However, we filled it just fine with a good product offering. We try to carry products that are all natural, organic, made in the USA, and have community-giving programs. We work hard to find a balance of brands that provide great products at a reasonable price that people can afford and use.

We have nothing that requires batteries. We really believe in the child’s imagination bringing a toy to life. So the toys you will find are very heirloom like: they’re kind of going back to your classic simple blocks. What a child can create out of a simple set of blocks is just amazing! Also, no characters. Not that we’re against fairy tales or superheroes, but it won’t be specific like Batman or Superman and those types of characters. [Instead,] we’ll have wool felt masks that a child can put on and wear and be any superhero they want to be. I like that open imagination play.

(DP) Can you tell us a little bit about your morning routine?

(AS) My day starts with a nice walk into Downtown. It is an enjoyable start to my day and is a way to decompress while walking through town. It is a great way for me to switch from ‘mother mode’ to ‘work mode’ and enjoy the views. It helps me appreciate where I get to work!

I like to stop by Scout Coffee on the way in and meet up with my dad. There are also a lot of the regulars in the shop that I see and say hello to. My morning routine really varies as a result of retail’s constantly changing nature. I could be doing anything from tagging inventory to catching up on email, touching base with my vendors to staying on top of the trends in our industry.

The challenge with having my hands in so much of the business is to not to be distracted by all of the things I used to feel I should be doing, instead of being present and attentive at the front of the store with customers and staff. I have a list of different things that my employees and I can do throughout the day but I would never ask my staff to do something I am not willing to do myself.

(DP) What are some of the businesses that you find yourself visiting around town?

(AS) Well, Taco Tuesday is a must! I go to El Matador every Tuesday because it is right around the corner from me. Giuseppe’s should just open me a tab, honestly, because I’m there a lot. That is one thing: I love hanging out in my back room where you can smell the garlic. It’s amazing and makes staring at a wall a lot better because I do stare at a wall back there. I always walk and go out to lunch. I never bring my own lunch but I do stick fairly close or grab something and eat in the back of the store.

That’s a great part of being Downtown: it’s like immediate decompression. You walk out and you’re walking by smiling faces and saying, “Hi!” to people and it’s just an immediate [sighs] “I’m so glad I’m here. Right now. This is exactly where I want to be, right now.”

(DP) Where do you find yourself going for that quick pick-me-up or frozen yogurt vice?

(AS) I visit Ascendo Coffee in the afternoon, sometimes. Mint+Craft to grab a quick drink; they [also] have a really good chocolate chip banana bread and lemon pound cake… but the chocolate chip banana bread I really like. I go to Seeds sometimes for a smoothie or bowl, or Bliss for a smoothie. That’s my quick-outing snack places.

Find EcoBambino on Instagram @EcoBambino or online at

Kat Thompson
Author: Kat Thompson