Just when you thought the market for selling toys was cornered by big-box stores, along comes Castle Toys and Games.
A year after opening in the Pine Tree Shoppes in Wexford, the store stays busy as it sells everything from old-fashioned favorites like marbles to more modern items like Power House, a kit of household experiments with renewable energy. We're talking sustainable living in the 21st century.
Customers know co-owner Jeff Lyden by name and he is quick to give them personalized service that includes helping Mom slip a Santa gift into the car trunk undetected by the children traveling with her.
His wife, Linda Lyden, chooses all the merchandise—she started the business in 2005 with a store in Beaver when their daughters went off to college.
Jeff said Linda looks for items that fulfill what customers are trying to do with their children.
"We look for the best product we can find within each type," Jeff said. "Beyond that, (Linda) is looking for things that as a mom she would love to have our kids play with."
Jeff runs the Wexford store at 12033 Perry Highway while Linda holds down the fort at the original Castle Toys and Games on Third Street in Beaver.
"We're growing," Jeff said. "I think it is because people are heading back to specialty stores."
"I just love it here," said customer Ann Hynds, who brought her son Henry in to claim his gift from the store's Birthday Vault. "We don't shop anywhere else. It's awesome, so neat."
And it has layaway, she adds.
The customers know Jeff well enough to give him a wink and a nod, so to speak, to put aside a toy they want while the kids are still in the store.
They can pay for it and pick it up later or Jeff will double bag it and slip it into the customer's car trunk without the kids ever seeing it.
It's that kind of personalized service that keeps customers coming back.
"It's a great place for a specialty toy store because of the demographics," Jeff said, adding there is no other store like them in the area.
"The clientele would rather shop at a small independent store than at a big-box store," he said. "We're very satisfied. Our clients tell us they're glad we're here and it's a good experience.
"We have the best clientele in any business," Jeff said. "They enjoy us being here and they want us to succeed."
Brand names displayed in the store include Playmobil, LEGO, Brainquest, Faber-Castell, Calico Critters, Klutz, Thinkfun, Schylling die-cast cars and trucks (saw a grandpa lingering around that display) and Gund.
"We carry cars and trucks, but we carry Bruder because they are manufactured in Germany. They replace parts for free and they are the best on the market."
Jeff said they go to international toy shows in search of merchandise and they lean toward made-in-the-USA toys whenever they can.
They also lean toward educational toys and games.
"We love games with which kids are learning as they're playing and don't even know they are learning," he said.
The store holds game nights that benefit schools and nonprofits.
"We bring staff and games and teach families the value of playing games together," Jeff said.
At the end of October, Castle Toys and Games traveled to Hance Elementary in Richland Township for a game night. The PTO received a portion of the proceeds from the event's sales.
Castle Toys and Games also supports nonprofits by holding benefit shopping days during which 10 percent of the proceeds go to a particular group.
During November, the store is supporting the Adoption Connection PA, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Autism Speaks and St. Alphonsus School .
The store supported the Children's Heart Foundation with a special event last Thursday during which
Keeping the Customer Satisfied
Castle Toys and Games offers a number of perks to keep its customers happy, including a play area for the children to enjoy while Mom and Dad shop.
When customers shop for a birthday present, they get a 10 percent discount when they show the clerk the birthday invitation.
Black Friday will be a customer appreciation day during which customers can fill a Castle Toys and Games shopping bag that they bring in from a past purchase and receive 20 percent off.
Customers can also order online and have the merchandise shipped to them.
Or they can call in an order for an item they've seen on the store's website, have it wrapped and ready for pickup at the Wexford or Beaver store.
Gift wrapping is free.
Back to the Birthday Vault ...
The store sends a postcard to a child for his or her birthday, inviting the youngster to come in for a free gift from the Birthday Vault.
"Kids love getting mail," Jeff said. "That's one of the reasons we do that."
When Henry Hynds came in with his postcard, Jeff gave him a key and showed him how to open a large door marked Birthday Vault. Inside are floor-to-ceiling shelves with wrapped presents on them.
Jeff pointed out the presents that were marked for a 5-year-old boy and Henry chose the one he wanted, then promptly sat on the floor to tear the wrapping off as his sister Lucy and brother William looked on.
His surprise gift? A set of dinosaur stamps.
Presto. Another satisfied customer.