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For more than thirty years, the Children’s Storefront has been an icon in the community – a place where families can “drop in” and find the support they need in an environment that is both welcoming and non-judgmental. As the first child-parent centre in Ontario, the Storefront paved the way for many of the free programs now in existence.

The central role of the Children’s Storefront has been to provide support for parents and young children. Since 1975, the Storefront has been the place where children could come and learn how to play together in a warm and child-centered environment, while at the same time, parents and caregivers could bond with each other and share stories about themselves in a supportive environment. Unlike nursery schools, daycares or counselling facilities, adults and children are served together in the same program.

In 1974 a Local Initiative Program grant was used to create a daytime setting for parents and preschoolers to come together using play and toy-making as the medium of communication and interaction. A toy-lending centre was established; there were toy-making workshops, including puppetry, for parents and children, and a daytime space for adults and children was created. The program evolved as parents and children came to borrow toys and stayed to chat — building relationships of mutual support. Lessons learned from this experience led to the creation of the Children’s Storefront.

The Children’s Storefront opened in January 1975 in a corner store at the intersection of Bathurst and Olive streets. Founded and staffed by Ryva Novick and Maryann Schwartz, the location provided a convenient place for people in the community to drop in according to their daily schedule. There is no structured programming at the Storefront, which means that everyone is welcome at any time. No one is ever late because their child slept in (or did not sleep) or because they have errands, appointments or work to do. For parents adapting to the needs of their young children, this kind of “scheduling” is welcomed with open arms.

The location on a main artery was chosen for its proximity to transit and its street-level appeal, making it inviting and inclusive to anyone passing by with babies or young children. These considerations were also pivotal in the choice of the Storefront’s second location at 1079 Bathurst Street in 1987.

Having never charged for its services, the Storefront’s mission has always been to be accessible to all families with young children. Run on a shoe-string budget, available monies have been carefully and deliberately spent on children’s literature and timeless toys. Fundraising has always been a very small part of the budget; and for the most part, fundraising efforts have been supported by users of the Storefront past and present, and donations from local business.

After a tragic fire led to the demolition of the building at 1079 Bathurst St. on October 31, 2009, the Children’s Storefront lost its premises and entire contents. The Storefront is rebuilding and reaching out to the community that it has served for many years. Founders Ryva Novick and Maryann Schwartz were pioneers in this field, and the Storefront’s goal is to continue their work.