By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — When Kaaren Grabianowski put on her first Kids and Baby Expo six years ago, they held it in the ballroom of Verizon Wireless Center.
She learned something very important that year: this kind of event needs room.
“It was a baby stroller traffic jam,” Grabianowski said.
The following year, and every year since, the event has been housed in the Verizon Wireless Center’s main arena. And even with that kind of room, it is still a busy place.
Saturday morning brought the sixth annual expo to the center and, like every year, the event produces the kind of atmosphere where, if you like kids, this was the place for you.
There were babies on backs, babies on fronts, babies in strollers, babies everywhere. Same for toddlers, which is why the expo has plenty for them to do.
A petting zoo with goats and chickens was set up in the area where the Zambonis park during hockey games. On the other end, kids were playing hop-scotch and taking turns on a tiny slide.
The major draw, though, was the vendors. The Mankato Clinic, Mayo Clinic Health System, Urban Birth, Munchkin Markets, the United Way, YMCA, Natural Baby Bums (diapers, not ne’er do wells), and many other vendors (more than 40, total) offered information or samples to entire expo goers their way.
By far the most successful enticer was Mead Johnson Nutritionals. The line was always 20-30 people deep for their giveaways of formula, formula pouches and informational materials.
Melissa Franklin was in that line, with sons Colton in a stroller and Tyler in her arms.
She said the best giveaway was the formula because it saved her about $30, which is what she would have paid at the grocery store for the amount they gave her.
But she came to the expo, she said, for a more practical reason.
“To get out of the house,” she said, half-jokingly. She said she also came to hear about new products.
Same for Chelsey Brielmaier, who operates a home day care in Mankato. She came both as a mom and a business owner.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “We’ve come every year.”
When she says “we,” she’s referring to not only her kids, but her husband, Mike, who was running interference out in the lobby with their oldest daughter while mom was inside checking out the vendors.
Brielmaier said she also was able to stop by the Mankato Clinic audiology booth and get her kids’ ears checked for fluid. Her kids have tubes in their ears, and they need to be checked occasionally. This allowed her to have them checked without booking an appointment with their doctor and paying a copay.
Grabianowski said about 700 families had registered for the event, equating to about 2,500 people.