A child ran up with arms outstretched and a huge smile on his face to hug the owner of the toy store, who was dressed in a Curious George costume. After the child posed for a picture, Curious George gave him a high five.
Toy Chest, a toy store in the College Mall, had its February Family Night on Friday. Children could meet and take photos with Curious George, who was played by owner Hilary Key, who owns Toy Chest with her husband, Danny Key.
The original Toy Chest is located in Nashville, Indiana. It has been open for about 47 years, and the Keys bought it in 2014. In 2015, they opened a store in the College Mall.
Though they also own the other store, running the Toy Chest in Bloomington has had a learning curve, Hilary Key said. The Bloomington store is located in a mall and is surrounded by larger franchises.
On the plus side, however, the Bloomington store brings the community more than the Nashville store, she said. The Nashville location tends to attract tourists, while the Bloomington store has returning customers.
Hilary Key said she wants the Bloomington community to be more aware that Toy Chest is a local business. Recently, the Bloomington store has attracted crowds at family events like monthly family nights and weekly Toddler Tuesdays. The events include books readings and arts and crafts.
The Bloomington store also gives children more space to play, Hilary Key said.
“Parents like how kids can run around and play without being judged,” she said.
The store also offers a demo area where children can try out toys before purchase. Danny Key said because the store is located within the mall, people tend to assume it is a large, franchised company.
The Toy Chest is the only specialty toy store in Bloomington, and he said its products are different from the mass-market toys found in stores like Toys “R” Us, Walmart and Target.
“I like to think they are higher-quality toys,” he said. “They come with a little higher price, but they are quality toys, and most of them have a good educational component.”
Danny Key said it is important to provide children with the opportunity to play with educational toys.
“We’re all about play and how play really helps educate kids,” he said. “They’re learning, and they don’t even know it.”
Customer service, he added, is an important part of the business. All of the employees at Toy Chest are toy experts who can lead customers directly toward what they are looking for. The employees advise customers on what toys are best for certain ages and children with mental disabilities.
“Here, you can get a full service experience,” Danny Key said.
Katie Hobbs, 34, said her parents took her to the Nashville Toy Chest when she was a child, and now she takes her children to both stores. Her two-year-old son’s favorite toy from Toy Chest is a train set, and Hobbs said the toys at Toy Chest are high quality and can be passed down from generations unlike many mass-market products. She has given her children toys from Toy Chest she had as a child.
She said she also likes the interactive environment of the store.
“They have the opportunity to play with the toys and see if they like them instead of just buying things,” Hobbs said.
Aimee Sims, 29, said she often comes once a week to the Toy Chest in College Mall. Her four-year-old daughter likes the books and science-related toys in the store, like slime and kinetic sand, Sims said.
While the toys can be more expensive, Sims said she prefers coming to the Toy Chest to going to stores like Toys “R” Us or ordering online because the local store provides a hands-on experience.
Her daughter likes to play with the toys in the store, especially a kitchen set in the back of the store, she said.
“We can never just go to the mall and leave,” Sims said. “She always has to check in.”