We believe in the diversity of creativity and strive to find the playthings that encourage it, said Nancy Walton, owner and co-founder.
A stroll through Toy Harbor conjures up memories of childhood toy stores along with the anticipation and excitement that those visits to such a fantasyland would generate. No shopping carts, computer games or blue light specials, just floor to ceiling shelves filled with the tools that spark imagination bins filled with knights in shining armor, dolls with shimmering curls, Legos and building sets, creative crafts and science adventures, puppets, horses, dinosaurs, books, puzzles and games.
The value of play is limitless, Walton said, noting the shops emphasis on toys with creative value. Communication skills begin at a young age in this era of technology and instant gratification, its important to take the space and time to play,
Many of Toy Harbors items are classics that have stood the test of time Legos, Erector sets, wooden toys, board games, craft sets, beautiful dolls and Breyer horses. Their timeless attraction links the generations.
While its core values have remained the same, Toy Harbor has come a long way since five friends lamented the difficulty in finding creative, hands-on toys for their young children in the early 1980s. That need inspired Walton and co-founder Mimi Bruder to create the shop which opened its doors on Labor Day weekend 1984.
It was daunting, Walton said. She and Bruder were among downtowns first women business owners, and with her degree in landscape architecture and Bruders in social work, were somewhat naïve in the business of retail. They compensated for lack of experience with enthusiasm and planning, carving a solid niche for their growing enterprise.
We certainly operated on a shoestring, Walton said. Inventory was purchased in twos and threes one to show, and one to go! Were certainly much larger today.
But our focus and commitment has remained strong .specialized service, a knowledgeable staff and age appropriate toys of quality, longevity and consequence.
Today, Toy Harbor employs 12 staff during peak seasons and features products from over 250 companies. Still an independent toy store, it has held its own against the regions growing number of big box competitors by continuing to offer high levels of service and expertise. Customers include a loyal community following as well as tourists and visitors. As the shop enters its third decade, past patrons are returning in new roles as parents and grandparents.
Parents will come in with little children and tell us how they remember coming to Toy Harbor when they were young .or others who are back because theyre grandparents now.
Many of the faces behind the counter are as familiar as the blue Toy Harbor aprons they wear. Manager Leslie Ansted has been on board for over 20 years while others also have many years under their belts. Its not unusual for teens who work part-time in high school to return during college breaks or after becoming young mothers. Co-workers as well as customers acknowledge the family-like camaraderie as one of the shops hallmarks.
Walton credits her staff as essential to Toy Harbors success and longevity.
Ive been so lucky to have the staff that I have I rely heavily on each and every one of them, Walton said, noting their shared commitment to Toy Harbors standards and service.
They are (Toy Harbors) spokespeople they have the responsibility to be very knowledgeable about our products and to convey that information to our customers, she said. And they do it beautifully whether its placing a special order or gift wrapping or helping a customer find just the right toy I know they are in good hands.
Toy Harbor is located in downtown Traverse City at 221 East Front St. Holiday hours are 10 am-9 pm, Monday through Saturday and 11 am-5 pm on Sundays. For more info, call (231) 946-1131.