by Tina Manzer
Kattywompus is a specialty toy store that focuses on retro and classic toys, but it also sells gifts and baked goods. And, if you want to learn how to play the guitar, ukulele, hammered dulcimer, banjo, or fiddle, you can buy your instrument there and take lessons. If you’re more of a visual artist, needle felting classes are available there, too.
The business was the brainchild of two professional product-designing sisters, Pam Fitzpatrick and Jennifer Ranger. Their work includes the original Batman doll from Applause, and the Fancy Nancy doll and Discovery Kids items from Jakks Pacific.
In 1997, as the collectible doll market declined, the store’s inventory evolved from dolls to toys. “Kattywompus,” also the name of the family’s band, was added to the sign. Middle sister Cindy Ranger left her job as a licensed daycare provider and came on board as store manager. A self-avowed toy fanatic, she does the buying, merchandising, and event planning, and runs the register seven days a week. “It was a natural fit for me – I think I spent most of my daycare profits on toys anyway.”
There are no other employees – Cindy believes the customers prefer it. “They call me ‘Miss Cindy’ and the kids think I’m their grandmother,” explains the 65-year-old. “They like that a grandmother invites them in to play and helps them select toys. One young customer calls the store ‘Cindy’s house.’”
The center of the store is a play area and it’s always busy. Everyone is welcome to play, whether they make a purchase or not. Passersby are encouraged to come in and just enjoy. “The experience we create is memorable, so they’ll remember us first when they need a birthday gift or a toy for their kids,” says Cindy.
The perfect location
Kattywompus is not the only Ranger family-owned retail store in town. Around the corner is Wil’s, their bait-and-tackle store.
Both are located in Monrovia’s Old Town, a charming, old-timey downtown not far from Los Angeles with historic buildings, boutiques, and a diverse selection of restaurants and cafes. “A lot of filming takes place here because it could be Anytown, USA,” Cindy says.
“There was a time when Monrovia was not necessarily a nice place to visit,” she adds. “When my sisters first leased their space, the city was just starting to change for the better, thanks to the hard work of our mayor and the community.
“Today, Monrovia is very welcoming to all ages and races. My sister Pam was instrumental in that effort, and in 2015 she received the Iris Award from the Chamber of Commerce, the equivalent of ‘citizen of the year.’ In 1995, Monrovia was named an All-America City by the National Civic League.”
Dollmakers opened in a vintage 900-square-foot brick building not far from its present location. “Then we had an earthquake. Afterward, an inspector came in and told us he was surprised to see the building still standing since it hadn’t been retrofitted. We got out of there pretty fast,” Cindy relates.
They moved to another Old Town spot where they remained for seven years. When a 2,200 square-foot storefront became available next to a 12-theater metroplex, they jumped on it. With the help of family, friends, and even customers, they loaded their merchandise into wagons and carted it the few blocks to the new location.
A mix for all ages
Kattywompus is open a lot: each day from 10 a.m. to at least 9 p.m. and ’til 7 p.m. on Sundays. Friday nights are special. From 8:15 to 10:15 each week, the streets close for a giant festival – a farmers market on steroids. On the sidewalk in front of Kattywompus, the family band performs multicultural folk music and blue grass. “We hold a dance contest with the kids and it’s really fun. You should tune in to our live podcast!” says Cindy.
Customers include a large “grandma” market, young mothers and their children, and visitors from the surrounding communities. There is/was a Toys “R” Us nearby “but we never tried to compete with them,” explains Cindy. “We look for the toys from small companies; the kinds of toys you won’t find anywhere else. We want an ‘Ooooooohhh’ factor.
“We specialize in the unique and we carry something for all ages,” she continues. “We have a wall of weird and ridiculous socks that adults love. I say we carry mostly ‘retro’ toys – jump ropes and toy trains – but traditional Teddy Bears are too old-school anymore. Kids want the big-eyed, anime-looking animals from Ty, and any plush that’s aquatic: sharks, octopi, etc.
“When we first starting selling trains, kids wanted the ones with faces on them – Thomas and Chuggington – but today they seem to want more action, so we are selling a lot of Brio trains and accessories.”
Ideas for new products to bring in come from reps and from ToyFest West. Cindy will start ordering for fourth quarter when she returns from that show because in August, “our customers will start shopping for Christmas and put their purchases on layaway.”
Kattywompus sells a lot of Melissa & Doug. “Right now our biggest seller is their play food,” Cindy says. “Our customers also love the big-ticket items – we have their Star Diner and Grocery Store set up as play stations in the store. It seems like whatever I put out sells. Target carries the Star Diner, but it’s in the box; never out for kids to touch and feel and play with. I wonder how they do with that …”
As Cindy says, retail is tough these days, but Kattywompus is doing just fine. “Customers like our free giftwrap. They like calling ahead to have me pick out a birthday present for them and that it’s ready for them to pick up on the way to the party. We’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing – it must be keeping our customers loyal, because we’ve been around for 27 years this June. Now we’re starting to see the second generation of shoppers!”