Downtown’s Cotton Exchange now has Wilmington’s corner of sin for the 6-9-year-old set: a toy store and an ice cream shop across from each other. To most kids, that’s called heaven.
The Scoop, my favorite ice cream shop (est. 1978), and Downtown Toy Company, Wilmington’s newest colorful shop, flank the courtyard of the Cotton Exchange, awaiting the pitter-patter of little feet. Gavin Myers, formerly the Paint Guru of Steven’s Hardware, and his parents, Gary and Belinda Myers, of Cape Fear Footwear in The Cotton Exchange, are the brains behind the playful store.
“We knew we wanted to do something in this space,” Myers said. “When we talked with the other merchants and Nancy [Bullock, manager of The Cotton Exchange], everyone was really excited about the idea of a toy store here.”
It is an appropriate choice for the space. As a child I remember visiting The Olde Wilmington Toy Company which once resided in the same location. It had big shelves that ran the length of the shop, filled with classic toys that looked like the images from my story books set in Victorian England: Dolls in pretty dresses, sailor figurines, boats, planes, trains and automobiles made of solid wood, marbles and paint sets! It was enough nostalgia and magic combined to make a little girl plotz!
“I still have a train that I got from that store when I was little!” Gavin confirmed with a big smile. Not unlike The Olde Wilmington Toy Company, Downtown Toy Company focuses on classic toys.
“I love the wooden ones,” Myers mused, picking up a piggy bank carved from wood—and made in the USA. “And this is made in North Carolina,” he said, pointing to a wooden puzzle from Walnut Hill Crafts of Grassy Creek, NC. “We have ‘Green Toys’, too.” He handed me a recycling truck (instead of a dump truck) made from re-purposed milk jugs! Bamboo Lincoln Logs, baby rattles made from recycled plastic and saw dust without dyes—it’s really an impressive array of environmentally sound toys. “We are trying to stay away from things that have a ‘controller,’” he explained.
A lot of talk has been had about the effect of marketing goods toward children. One trip to Toys ‘R’ Us or the toy section of Walmart, and it is obvious why parents would be concerned about the messages of consumerism their kids receive. Downtown Toy Company doesn’t feel “commercial.” It’s calm and quiet.
“Is it not the greatest toy store ever?” Nancy Bullock asked rhetorically. It’s also another opportunity to shop locally for toys, a concern that several locally minded shoppers raised around Christmas time last year.
“We are overjoyed!” Jef Pollock, owner of The Scoop, said when asked about the company’s arrival. “It’s a built-in partnership. We hope between us to become the favored destination of grandparents throughout the Cape Fear region.”
The Scoop has always had a soft spot in my heart—and not because “Kate Plus Eight” stopped by last year. When I reached that point in life when my bicycle became transportation, as opposed to a toy, the first place I rode was to The Scoop to get a french vanilla waffle cone. It felt terribly grown-up sitting in the courtyard of The Cotton Exchange on a warm spring day, spending my baby-sitting money on cool scoops of chocolate. Apparently, I am not alone in my nostalgic admiration of The Scoop.
“At least once a week in the summer we have someone come in and say ‘I used to come here when I was a kid,’” Pollock said. “It’s great.”
Downtown Toy Company is planning a grand opening party on St. Patrick’s Day, which will include giveaways for children of all ages. Shoppers can stop by to celebrate this great addition to our downtown and get an ice cream cone from another one of our great institutions. Not only will it be a fun afternoon with the kids, it’ll be a great opportunity to support small family businesses. That’s a family value never too young to learn—something we can all stand behind.