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Baby Business Boom

October 19, 1987|KEITH BRADSHER

Baby gyms are maturing into a big business as the jogging generation is seeking to instill physical fitness values in its young at ever earlier ages. Courses start with instructors moving the limbs of infants as young as 3 months and progress to 1- and 2-year-olds tumbling, hanging and singing. Prices vary: at Junior Gym in Van Nuys, eight weekly, 45-minute classes for toddlers between 14 months and 3 years cost $62, said owner and director Jed Heller.

The first Gymboree toddler play center opened just 11 years ago. The Burlingame, Calif.-based industry giant now has more than 250 franchised centers, including 34 in Southern California, said Karen A. Anderson, vice president for licensing and public affairs. About 100,000 kids, 35% of them less than a year old, bounce through the company's programs each year, she said. Insurance premiums have stayed low because parents accompany their babies, said Joan Barnes, president and founder.

Courses are supposed to provide active play to tykes. "We're not trying to make these kids into superstars, able to do six push-ups by the age of four," Anderson said.

Gymboree has even begun selling its own name brand apparel and toys through a small chain of retail stores. The privately held company has opened seven outlets since last November and plans to have 13 by year-end, including five in Southern California, Anderson said. By 1992, the company hopes to have 130.

Stores show videotapes of children playing and exercising to music all day long. But Rebecca B. Wagner, manager of the Gymboree store in Westside Pavilion, claims that she hasn't become sick of the racket: "We find ourselves singing the songs and going with the flow."

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