Patti Hess, Joyce Powell, Cathy Martin, David Martin
photo by Cindy Steele

The Toy Chest
Celebrates 35

by Susan W. Showalter

Cathy and David Martin’s backgrounds as preschool and elementary schoolteachers, antique dealers and especially their love of community made them ideal candidates to become the new owners of The Toy Chest in 1989 when Helen and Ed Hollis decided to sell their business. This year they celebrate The Toy Chest’s 35th anniversary.

“The Hollis family opened The Toy Chest in 1970 on Main Street,” explained Cathy. “Ed spent several years creating a model circus and visitors could view his masterpiece. The building and circus were destroyed in a fire in the 1980’s then it reopened in its former location.”

The Toy Chest has been in its present location at the Artists Colony Shops on Van Buren Street since 1988. The large variety of merchandise makes the shop feel more like a very big store. Attention to detail is obvious. The store sells several original toys.

“We worked with the company B. Dazzle to create a puzzle which features a picture of Bean Blossom’s covered bridge,” said Cathy. “We also offer a Farkel game that has a log cabin and The Toy Chest name on it. We are happy to offer both Brown County and Indiana related toys and books by Brown County authors Portia Harvey Sperry (Abigail), Gwenyth Swain (I Wonder, as I Wander and Chig and the Second Spread) and Patricia Frechtman (The Browne Twins Series). A music CD, Heart Shaped Rocks (Parent’s Choice Award), composed and produced by staff member by Pamela Jay, is also available at the store.”

The Martins, who are members of the Brown County Chamber of Commerce and the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, have experienced changes in the toy industry over the years. Now there are the imports from China and somewhat lower pricing. Nostalgic toys, retro toys and family games have become more popular and more customers seek toys not offered by the mass market. Cathy and David personally restock the store themselves each night but they have several employees who handle sales.

Joyce Powell, store manager, has enjoyed working at The Toy Chest since 1987. When asked what her favorite aspects of the store are she quickly responded, “the people. Also, I love sharing the historic traditions of Steiff creations. I like offering Steiff products because they’re such quality toys.” Joyce looks forward to family news updates from the numerous repeat customers.

“This is a nice place to work…a fun place to work,” said Patti Hess who has worked at the store for 15 years. “We have such neat traditional toys that people don’t find everywhere. We have Thomas the Train and beautiful Madame Alexander Dolls. We have puzzles, games and marionettes. We carry other unique tin wind-up toys and steam engines.”

“To be successful in retail is like anything else,” said David. “You have to work hard, you have to have some kind of a flair for it and you have to have some luck. It’s a combination of all of that.”

David was Chairman of the Brown County Library Board of Directors for several years and was instrumental in building the new building. He received the John Rudd Community Service Award in 2004.

“Some of my favorite things about the store are the nested hand painted dolls from Russia and our books,” said Cathy who, along with David, reads each book before it is placed in the store. “I also am appreciative of enthusiastic customers and being able to help people. Three grandmothers from the Chicago area, claiming to be toy connoisseurs, told us this is the best toy store they had ever been in!”

According to David, the Russian nesting dolls were made with foot powered wood lathes then hand painted by specialized artists when he and Cathy bought the store. Since then, the dolls are made in small cottage type industries with several people working together.

“We appreciate the importance of play experiences in children’s development. Our children and we collected antique toys,” said Cathy, who helped establish the Brown County Parks and Recreation Board. She served on the Brown County Foundation scholarship award committee, is an Indiana Heritage Arts Board Member and is active in Psi Iota Xi philanthropic sorority.

Cathy met David when each was working in the library in their hometown of Ft. Wayne. They moved here after taking teaching jobs in Columbus. Their two children, Seth and Becky, are graduates of Brown County High School. Seth and his wife have two-month old twins. (Just imagine…parents and grandparents who own a toy store!)

“Shops come and go,” said Cathy. “I am glad that there are still primarily mom and pop stores. People come in everyday saying that they love Brown County and they look forward to coming to our store. The original customers are actually bringing in their kids. These are some of the things I love about having the store,” Cathy said as her smile and eyes sparkled.

The Toy Chest opens daily at 10:00 a.m. and closes at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday but is open until 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information please contact The Toy Chest at 812 988-2817.