, Salem, MA


December 4, 2013

Toy stories

Downtown toy shops have big competition, but lots of fun

At Green Elephant Toys in Danvers Square, they’re gearing up for the holidays.

Sock moneys, plush toys, science kits, Lego sets, wooden and tin toys — toys that look like Santa’s elves made them — line the shelves. The Brio trains are out on a table for kids to play with while their parents shop.

“If you look around, we make it so much fun to be here,” said Andrew Schylling, who runs the shop with his wife, Jennifer, and who appears to be having a lot of fun himself.

Green Elephant is one of a handful of local, independent toy stores on the North Shore hoping to lure holiday shoppers downtown this season. They offer toys from manufacturers that can’t be found at large discount chains or big-box retailers, they say, along with competitive prices and, often, free gift wrapping.

Still, they have an uphill battle when it comes to attracting their share of holiday business.

A recent Harris Poll showed that nearly half of holiday shoppers will buy toys from large discounters, another 33 percent will buy online, 11 percent will shop at a national toy store chain, and just 4 percent will shop at a local toy store.

Owners of these local toy shops say they are not trying to slight big-box retailers, but their small size allows them to provide individual attention to customers. And while they offer some of the same toys as the bigger chains, they are downtown — not at the busy malls.

”Our market is and has always been people who don’t like shopping there,” said Sam Pollard of Mud Puddle Toys, which has shops in Marblehead and downtown Salem.

Clearly, there are customers who value that.

Marblehead Toy Shop on Atlantic Avenue recently held its 19th anniversary, while Mud Puddle Toys, which originated in Marblehead, opened a second store on Salem’s Essex Street pedestrian mall in 2010. Green Elephant is the second store operated by Andrew and Jennifer Schylling, who have also run a toy store on Market Street in Ipswich for seven years.

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