by Victoria Ritter
Visiting a toy store is sure to evoke awe and curiosity in young patrons. Enas Lanham of Dublin, Ohio, hopes to preserve that sense of amazement with her business, Dublin Toy Emporium.
The specialty toy store is located in Dublin, a northwest suburb of Columbus. It’s within walking distance of parks, multiple restaurants, the Historic Dublin District and the Dublin Link pedestrian bridge – the world’s longest single tower “S” shaped suspension bridge in the world.
Lanham began her career as a dance teacher and eventually taught preschool and kindergarten in Columbus and the suburb of Worthington. Her dream, however, was to have her own business. As a teacher and a mother of two girls, she understood the impact good toys and interactive play had on developing minds. Her chance came five years ago when a storefront went on sale just a 15-minute drive from her house. “I knew what good quality toys were,” she said. “I saw this spot here and thought it would be the perfect place for a toy store. I feel like every community needs a little toy store.”
Today, Lanham operates the store alongside two part-time employees and one substitute who fills in when one of the regular staff members can’t come in. They all work the store utilizing an electronic POS system.
When she started Dublin Toy Emporium, she knew a key to success would be to diversify what the store had to offer, going beyond merchandise and into experiences that appeal to a range of customers. The emporium provides Kindermusik classes in a room at the back of the building. The program offers six levels of classes for newborns through age 7. Classes for younger students focus on reacting to new sounds, learning basic music concepts and enhancing cognitive development. Older students receive more formal music instruction and learn about social-emotional skills, build their confidence and work in groups. Meanwhile, Kindermusik helps parents and caregivers build connections with their children, learn how to use music to create daily routines and unpack emotions.
Lanham witnessed how the students work on vocabulary and following directions while they build relationships with their caregivers and fellow students. Her own children benefitted from Kindermusik when they were young. “It’s very interactive,” she stated. “It’s great for bonding and social development.”
All for fun, fun for all
Dublin Toy Emporium is an independent store, and Lanham chooses her own stock of merchandise. Her younger customers are eager to provide suggestions for toys they’d like to see on the shelves. While she has visited trade shows in the past, she mainly purchases her stock and keeps abreast of current toy trends through sales representatives from manufacturers. Brands include European lines such as HABA, Hape and Corolle and U.S.-made environmentally friendly Green Toys. When choosing merchandise to showcase, Lanham looks for durable, ethically-made toys that are developmentally appropriate for certain age categories. “I try to bring in good quality toys that I would want my own family to have,” she stated.
Lanham observed how HABA ball tracks are popular with toddlers ages 2 and up, while middle schoolers tend to gravitate towards fidget toys. Larger trends include Magna-Tiles, which has become a new staple building toy. “All ages can really sit down and get creative with Magna Tiles,” Lanham said. “They have many really cool offshoots.”
Merchandise fills several rooms at the toy store, each with their own focus. One section contains games, puzzles, brain teasers and science-themed products. Another room features arts, crafts, make-believe toys and books. A third room showcases building kits, vehicles and trains. The main area contains fidget toys and several items geared towards infants that encourage learning and play. Adults are not left out as Lanham has a selection of games for kids and kids-at-heart including Jumanji, Catan, themed playing cards and more. The age range spans from infant to adult.
Accordingly, Lanham’s customer range is just as varied in terms of age. Most of her clientele are families, several of whom live close by. She has a few regular out-of-town clients who purchase items through her online catalog for their relatives in the Dublin area who are celebrating a holiday or birthday. When she receives a gift order for a local customer, Lanham will wrap the gift and deliver it for free as long as the recipient is within the Columbus area – or within a 30- to 45- minute drive. “The online store really helps when clients are out of town,” she said.
Online orders come from as far away as California and the U.K. Customers, both near and far, will ask Lanham for her opinion and advice about what toys are age appropriate for their kids. “A lot of people really value small businesses and the extra help that small businesses give,” Lanham stated. “I feel like I have a connection with a lot of people.”
Changing the game, keeping the magic
Just as the toy trends change, so must a small and independent toy store evolve to endure. As it happened, Lanham prepared for one of the biggest hurdles to independent toy stores – the COVID-19 pandemic – without even knowing it. Prior to the pandemic, she had established an e-commerce site for the emporium. During months-long shutdowns, she switched her model to remote delivery and curbside pickup, which is still available to this day. Now the online store serves to supplement in-person sales.
Special in-person activities at Dublin Toy Emporium attract even more customers. Lanham will host area authors for story time and fairy days where kids can meet “sprites” and get their faces painted. The store provides specials or activities in conjunction with local events such as a city scavenger hunt, Historic Dublin St. Patrick’s Day parade or Easter egg hunt.
Lanham continues to think of creative ways to make visiting Dublin Toy Emporium a special experience. Current plans include establishing a fairy garden in a courtyard right next to the store and installing a ceiling train inside. “I hope to have things to make the store feel magical,” she said. “I want to make visiting the store a memorable experience. I can’t count the number of people who’ve come in and said they remember going to a toy store with their family and how it was a good memory for them.”