Glowing orange light illuminates the windows of the storefront, a welcoming sight as I walk through the dim parking garage in Downtown Harrisonburg. The swirls of color, created from glimpses of shelves stacked with hundreds and hundreds of toys grab at my eye’s attention, refusing to let go. I feel like a child again, transfixed in awe at this sparkling gem, this majestic hideaway, off West Water Street.
My reaction is a common one, according to Jen Edwards, owner of Dragonflies Toys, this new and exciting addition to Harrisonburg’s retail scene. “Adults really enjoy coming in just as much as the kids,” she remarks. “There are several things to touch and to play with. I think it can be sort of nostalgic for them.” Even in the time we speak, a few adults happen to meander inside, a small smile playing across their faces as they pick up toys, reminiscing about their youth. “Oh, such neat stuff,” one of them comments, almost more to herself than to us. But of course, the real customers are the children.
One of the reasons Jen opened Dragonflies Toys was because she has a young son of her own and she found herself intrigued by the toy options available to him. She had worked in retail and customer service before and decided she was finally ready to start her own business. “I really enjoy the interaction and seeing lots of people every day. It’s definitely a good challenge but I like being my own boss.”
So with help from some friends, she put together this treasure-chest of a shop. The walls, painted in various shades of periwinkle, orange, lime, and purple are scattered with illustrations of rockets and castles. They serve as a perfect backdrop for glowing Chinese lanterns and the simple and rustic wooden shelves, filled to the brim with games, puzzles, crafts, and other various knick-knacks. “The sight is actually a little overwhelming for some of the kids,” she mentions with a chuckle. “Some just don’t know how to react but there are other kids who head straight toward the stuff.” She even mentions one boy who was so overwhelmed that it took his mom several minutes to coax him into the store. But once the children warm up, they are free to explore, play, and touch what they see. “I just want them to have a fun time,” Jen says.
But along with the fun, Jen also has a huge responsibility when choosing what she will sell. “A lot of it is gut feeling,” she says when describing her system of selecting merchandise, but she also has high standards, a quality that makes Dragonflies Toys so special. “I go for the toys that are unique, high-quality, and mostly on the educational side. I also don’t carry any of the brands that you would find in bigger, chain toy stores.” She believes that the products from the smaller, independent toy companies are more interesting anyway and provide more opportunity for developing imagination, creativity, and motor skills. Also, as a member of ASTRA (the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association), she has the opportunity to connect with independent toy manufacturers. ASTRA even provides retailers a chance to attend an annual convention called Marketplace, which hosts workshops and a two-day expo where toy retailers and manufacturers collaborate. This helped her to connect with the 60+ manufacturers she features at the shop.
So now, only two months in business, Jen is hopeful for the future and is already looking for ways to build up her business. “It’s unfortunate that we are in a small location. I would love to hold craft or science workshops or story time but there is not enough space. That is something I’m trying to work up to.” She is also looking to hold fundraisers where a certain percentage of sales one evening would be donated to a preschool. And of course, as a part of Downtown Harrisonburg, she is very grateful for the support of the community. “I really like that we have a livable and vibrant downtown. That is what drew me to the area. And I only live a mile away so I get to spend mornings with my son too.”
We are excited to have Jen and Dragonflies Toys as a part of the downtown Harrisonburg community and are grateful for all that her shop brings; a chance to enrich the minds of children and to entertain and evoke memories for people of all ages. Best of luck to Dragonflies Toys!
Visit Dragonflies Toys at 49-E West Water Street.
Call 540.437.1888 for more information and check out their Facebook page.
P.S. Here are Jen’s picks of best sellers at the shop. Be sure to check them out!
- Bubber. This unique stuff squishes like putty but pulls apart in feather-like strands. Provides hours of fun and is a great stress-reliever for adults.
- Crazy Forts: No more couch cushion forts with these customizable structures. Just construct the frame, drape a blanket over top, and you’ve got an awesome fort.
- Qwirkle: It may seem like a simple matching game, but this fun, family activity requires strategy and planning ahead to win big.
Katie George is the Promotions Intern for fall of 2011. She is a senior Media Arts & Design major at James Madison University.
All photographs © 2011 Katie George