, Salem, MA


December 4, 2013

Toy stories

Downtown toy shops have big competition, but lots of fun


“The New England Dog Biscuit Company, the studio just opened up across the street, the consignment shop right next to us — if you look, none of these buildings are vacant anymore. This is all in the last 18 months or so, where you have really seen downtown Danvers and the Square really becoming a place to be.”

It also helps that many of his customers “really want to support the local guy,” he said.

Andrew Schylling has roots in the toy business: His family recently sold Schylling Associates in Rowley, a large independent toy and gift designer, to two investment firms. Green Elephant is independent of that company, he said.

In 2010, Mud Puddle Toys co-owners Kristen and Sam Pollard of Marblehead decided to open their second store in downtown Salem.

The Marblehead residents noticed Salem was on the rise.

“Over the years, we’ve seen a change and by all accounts it seemed like a city headed in the right direction,” Sam said. The business community proved welcoming, and the city helped with a federal program to provide financing for the new store.

”It was a very business-friendly environment,” Pollard said.

Since the economic downturn, Pollard has noticed a shift among toy buyers who head to specialty shops, however. “The challenge is there is an ever larger population where cost is the single biggest factor,” he said.

Pollard is also noticing another trend among his customers — ”a lot more shoppers who are vocal about shopping local.”

There are other places where shoppers can find toys at specialty shops outside the malls. Salem Toy Museum at the Museum Place Mall has a small gift shop, and there’s Learning Express franchise on Route 1A in North Beverly. Model train enthusiasts can check out North East Trains on Main Street in Peabody, and model makers can try Dave’s Hobby Shop on Cabot Street in Beverly.

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