The Little Ark, 6425 Avondale Drive in Nichols Hills Plaza, is a bright and airy boutique filled with gifts for all ages.
About half the shop is geared toward a younger customer base with trendy clothing for kids hung on racks in eye-catching color coordination. There is a small, house-shaped reading nook at the front, just one of a few special areas for the boutique’s toddling clientele.
A second kid-centric space is in the back, where a large mirrored room is available for classes and events. In there, families and children can learn and socialize together.
On this afternoon, owner and founder Nina Westbrook works on the children’s side while manager Ashley Black handles the register and customers admire the baby clothes. There’s a delightful “Thunder Up” tee that is one of the store’s most popular items.
Westbrook, a former collegiate basketball player at University of California Los Angeles and a marriage and family therapist, has put down solid roots in Oklahoma City. She was practicing as a therapist here and enjoying her work but decided she wanted change. The idea for The Little Ark came to her on a drive one day.
The store’s name is in honor of Westbrook’s son, Noah, a wink to his biblical namesake. After his arrival, Westbrook recognized a need for a place that could provide both stylish family goods and the connections of a local community.
The Little Ark, a combined meeting place and shopping boutique, was born soon afterward. While the retail side is inspired by Westbrook’s eye for style and a love of shopping for her kids, the gathering space grew out of her background as a therapist.
“I also wanted to incorporate the classes because I’m so used to — in my career as a marriage and family therapist — working with groups of people, with kids, adults, students,” she said. “I wanted to somehow have a space where I could incorporate that aspect of my life.”
Westbrook said the whole shop’s vibe takes inspiration from Noah’s Ark, as well. They try to have something for everyone, although not necessarily two by two.
Along with the wide range of baby products, there is an eclectic mix of home goods and décor. Customers will find clean beauty from Austin-based Milk and Honey, Luxuriate candles in handmade stone holders, loungewear by Splendid and sweets by Lolli & Pops.
There is also a sense of sustainability and environmental awareness in many of the shop’s products. Amongst the infant gear are eco-friendly toys from Blabla Kids and reusable silicon bags by Stasher.
Tables are arranged with books for readers both young (like Just Breathe by Mallika Chopra) and old (like Style Drivers, the coffee table book by Westbrook’s husband).
“I wanted to be more of a lifestyle boutique, where anybody coming in could find something that they like,” she said.
With the women’s clothing offerings, Westbrook chose to focus on cozy leisurewear and a limited lingerie and sleepwear selection. The Little Ark neighbors another clothing retailer, CK & Co., but caters to a niche with the comfy outfits for active women, especially moms.
Westbrook said she enjoys getting feedback and learning about what the areas of need are in her shopping clientele.
“I’m very open,” she said. “It’s a journey that happened quickly, and we’re all here just learning as we go.”
The shop’s classes are meant to foster a community and support system for repeat visitors. She hopes both the kids and families make meaningful connections.
Regular events include weekly story time, music instruction and dance classes. Registration for the classes is available on The Little Ark’s website.
Westbrook pointed out that the gatherings are especially beneficial during the harsh Oklahoma winters, providing a safe space for energetic toddlers to play and make friends.
“They’re typically called ‘mommy and me’ classes, but I’m more inclusive of whoever wants to bring the kids,” she said.
So grandparents, dads and other family members are welcome, too.
During her first pregnancy, Westbrook was told she should take a CPR class. Realizing the importance of this for others, she included it on The Little Ark’s schedule, and CPR certification is held monthly.
The class’ focus is on child and infant safety and first aid, and the instructor is certified through American Heart Association. The next CPR certification class is on March 9.
Seasonal events like cookie-decorating classes for winter holidays and Valentine’s Day are held in the space, as well. Lan McCabe from Sweets on the Side, a custom bakery in Oklahoma City, leads those events. After the class’ delectable decorating activities, participants are sent home with McCabe’s cookie and icing recipes.
Westbrook is considering some adult cookie-decorating events too because she said it’s always fun for the grown-ups who come. She hopes to one day host other small groups for women and men or potentially rent the space to other clients who want to hold events or parties.
She credited her staff as a big part of the brainstorming process and said she is willing to experiment and find what works.
No matter what, Westbrook wants her visitors to take a deep breath and relax when they come in.
“It’s OK if your kids run around and play and have fun,” she said. “It’s normal. I just want everybody to feel good when they come here. I want it to be social and a good place to get out to.”