Several people have pointed out that my live local commitment has worked well for me largely because I don’t have school-aged children or a large family. One of the items that I have not bought this year or written about is toys.
After some reflection, my answer for the local purchase of toys includes: Tomlinson’s, a regionally owned discount shop), Planet (for the fun and funky), Learning Express (an educational toy franchise), and my favorite, U.S. Trolls.
In the midst of the early 1990’s craze for neon-haired trolls, a sign went up in front of a house on Market Street: “U.S. Trolls.” What was going on inside the house was much more interesting than the fuzzy, harried, rubber-doll passing fad. Inside, the Kuuskoski family were continuing the saga of the trolls they had been hand-stitching since 1952. The first time I stepped inside their store, I fell in love. It was after a hurricane and their sign had blown down. I stopped to help Johannes and Minna, the two adult children of Helena Kuuskowski, to move the sign. I asked if there was still going to be story time that weekend. Minna pulled herself up straight, as she slapped one hand into another and declared: There! Would! Be! Story! Time!”
Inside the cottage, a wonderful world of color, joy, adventure and excitement awaits each customer. Trolls hang from the walls, cover every surface and everywhere consumers turn they’re met with something huggable. Each troll has a name, a history a personality and an accompanying story; hence Minna’s devotion to story time. My first purchase was Green Nose, the Plant Psychiatrist. Trumpet Nose, the poet leader of Trolldom, lived at the bookstore for a couple of years (and I hope will return soon).
The Kuuskoski family began their devotion to trolls and creating a world of Trolldom in Naantali in Finland (close to Turku). “When my momma started in 1952 she would make all the trolls herself and go from store to store to sell them,” Minna recounts. But things really took off in the early ‘60s.
“The Troll Forrest started to grow when we were living in Jarvenpaa (25 miles north of Helsinki),” Minna continued. “Eventually we had over 200 employees. The Park happened because people wanted to know about the trolls, how they were being made and where they lived,” she said. “They started showing up at our front door!”
Helena smelled an opportunity and ran with it. “My brother and I dressed up in troll costumes and did programs,” she said. “By the late ‘60s, we became the third largest tourist attraction in Finland.”
They also had licensing agreements with about two dozen other companies that produced glassware, savings banks and other things with the troll imagery. “From our point of view, first of all we are very happy and delighted that we can live in America,” she continued, “but more than that, after 50 years of troll-making, we are delighted that children still get excited. It’s really quite remarkable that something so low-tech can catch their attention! Of course, we are still in the process of trying to get Trolldom built.”
As long as I have visited the troll store they have been talking about opening the Trolldom theme park in North Carolina. “If you know anyone who just won the lottery, and has $30 million lying around…”
Personally, I think Trolldom sounds rather fabulous. Until then, the next best thing is story time with Minna. With a “Mr. Rogers”-like feel, it’s not loud and it doesn’t leap around. Listeners sit on the floor, while Minna, in her calm almost hypnotic voice, tells the story of how Honeylips invented the Trolls Royce and forgot to give it a steering wheel. Henry Ford’s first car didn’t have a reverse gear, so maybe this is par for the course.
To help reinvigorates any basic faith in the goodness of the world—and some days that’s tough to do—U.S. Trolls hosts storytime every Saturday at 2 p.m. Or read the stories online at www.trollforest.com.
Gwenyfar Rohler is the author of “The Promise of Peanuts: A real-life fairy tale about a man, a village, and the promise that bound them together.” Available at www.OldBooksonFrontSt.com; all profits go to Full Belly Project (www.Fullbellyproject.org).