Boomers are becoming grandparents, and businesses love it

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2001

At Vickie Evans' house, a bassinet is on standby. So are burping pads, Lilliputian nail clippers, and a portable playpen -- all courtesy of a shower hosted by her friends.

Now all Evans and her husband need is a visit from their first grandchild, a baby boy born in mid-December.

''We want our grandchild to feel welcome in our home, so we can say, 'Come to grandma and grandpa's and spend a week with us,''' said Evans, a 55-year-old retired schoolteacher in Henrico, N.C.

Like Evans, the oldest of America's 76 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964, are headed into grandparenthood. It's a demographic shift that businesses are relishing.

Boomers, beneficiaries from birth of the nation's post-World War II prosperity, are expected to open their pocketbooks in ways that previous grandparent generations lacked the resources to do.

''We're more active, we're healthier, wealthier and better educated than previous grandparenting generations,'' said Allan Zullo, author of ''The Nanas and the Papas: A Boomers' Guide to Grandparenting. ''Our generation is willing to spend anything to help give our grandkids an edge.''

The boomer grandparents that Zullo and others talk with want the best for their grandchildren, including pricey clothing, trips and educational opportunities they might not have been able to afford for their own children -- or had the free time to enjoy.

Although the income levels of boomer grandparents vary, a lot of business are already starting to see the benefits. With the offspring of boomers delaying parenthood until later and tending to have fewer children, many grandparents are extremely generous when it comes to a grandchild.

''The older grandparents we get are not as likely to spend so much because they remember the Depression, whereas the baby boomers were born after World War II, when the world was wonderful so they have a rosier outlook,'' said Holli D'Antonio, owner of Lizzie's Looking Glass, an upscale children's store in Boca Raton, Fla., that sells, among other items, European toys and train sets that cost several hundred dollars.

Evans, the North Carolina grandmother, shopped at a baby specialty store and spent more than $300 on baby clothes with a circus-elephant theme. They matched the nursery at her daughter's home.

''I bought onesies, blankets, hats in all different sizes for 3 months, 6 months. I bought the whole store out of everything they had. It was all just so cute,'' she said. ''I'd have never been able to do this for my own children. We didn't have the money.''

The business of grandparenting extends beyond boutiques and malls. Boomers are also interested in being up-to-date on the latest parenting and grandparenting techniques. In addition to using the Internet, some are also attending grandparenting classes.

Boomer grandparents are more likely ''to come prepared with more questions. They ask about the right way to position babies, about car safety,'' said Jan Grant, a registered nurse educator in charge of the grandparenting classes offered at Westmoreland Regional Hospital in Greensburg, Pa.

Boomers want to offer gifts that provide their grandchildren with certain intangible benefits.

Debbie Verrengia, 50, of Yorba Linda, Calif., cares for her 4-month-old granddaughter Jenna three days a week while her parents work. She's been buying books, believing that it creates a special bond between a grandparent and a grandchild. As Jenna gets older, Verrengia envisions taking her places that combine education and fun.

''I'm really looking forward to things like museums,'' Verrengia said. ''We did this with our own children and it was a lot of fun.''

Evans, the grandmother in North Carolina, is looking forward to creating memorable holidays for her grandson.

''We want to do the traditional things together: Christmas celebrations or birthdays for example,'' she said. ''We want to be able to be the kinds of grandparents that are involved.''

There's even a special travel agency for grandparents with deep pockets. For between $4,000 and $8,000 per traveler, a grandparent and grandchild can visit locales ranging from New York to Kenya.

''Anyone can leave their grandchildren money, but these grandparents want to leave them memories. They want to participate in making these children's lives with them significant,'' said Helena Koenig, owner of GrandTravel. ''On our trips they go horseback riding and river rafting and do other things together.''

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