Correction: Turner Toys is located in Finney Crossing. An earlier version misidentified the shopping center.
WILLISTON – In a world transformed by online shopping and at a time when COVID brought in-person buying to a crawl, a locally owned toy store defied the retail odds.
Turner Toys thrived while many other stores limped along and is taking that momentum to go bigger.
The former Essex retailer moved to a newly constructed building with more space. The business re-opened officially April 29th at its new Williston location and hopes to draw in more customers from across Chittenden County.
As one of only several locally owned toy shops in the area, the owners hope Vermont families will continue to support them in their new place of residence.
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The toy industry has seen strong growth over the last couple years, a trend that Peter Sloan who has owned Turner Toys with his wife for last 10 years, is glad to see.
Sloan’s main competitors are online retailers, but he says the playing field has leveled recently. Amazon has raised prices and even exceeds the sticker price for some of the products Turner Toys currently carries — which Sloan said people notice.
Families frequently come in to reward a child for something they accomplished or endured, like a dental visit, which Sloan said is most effective to get the same day.
“Two days later is an eternity as a kid,” he said about waiting to receive an online order. “It’s in our favor the product is right here, right now.”
Right now is also what some families wanted during self-imposed isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kids were being entertained at home and parents looked for items that would draw their children away from screens.
Sloan said because parents weren’t spending as much on commuting, dry cleaning or eating out, they had more disposable income to spend on purchases that may have been made in an attempt to “buy normalcy.”
In response to the pandemic, Turner Toys increased their website functionality offering online orders and curbside pick up to help customers shop the way they were comfortable. As of May 2, the store still encouraged mask wearing while children younger than 5 years old were still ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
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During the past holiday season Sloan was able to manage by buying products six months early and storing them, knowing supply chain issues were affecting the transport of goods worldwide. The store also sent out a holiday catalog to 5,800 households.
In Vermont, Sloan believes stores like his have benefited from the “eat local” movement morphing into “buy local.” When it comes to toys, there are only a handful of locally owned shops in Chittenden County.
What to expect at the new Turner Toys location
After working on the new location since January Sloan said, “It was great to open the door and actually have people see it.” A steady stream of shoppers turned out for the soft open at the end of April which Sloan said exceeded their expectations.
The new Turner Toys is in a brand new building tucked between Healthy Living and H & R Block at 129 Market St. in Williston’s Finney Crossing shopping center.
The space is bright from natural and indoor lighting and colorful wall murals draw your eye up the high ceilings lined with puzzles, board games and Legos.
Sloan said the selling space is about one-third larger than what they previously had at their Essex location and, rather than needing lots of storage space, the tall walls allow product to be stored up high but still in view.
The new layout gives the items space to breathe, Sloan said. Before, Turner Toys would display games sideways with only the spines of the box showing, but now they are able to turn them front-facing so customers have a better idea of what’s inside.
The other location had a separate room for groups to play games like Magic the Gathering. About two-thirds of the new store is equipped with rolling product shelves that can be pushed together to make room for an after hours event seating 20 people.
Among the shelves, you’ll find toys for babies — including the wooden rattle produced on a “turner” lathe that became the store’s namesake — all the way to an extensive collection of model car kits and the paint to go with it for the adult hobbyist. In between are construction, science and engineering kits; items for outdoor fun; hand puppets and stuffed animals; dress up clothing; and sets of Pokémon and Magic the Gathering cards.
One thing Sloan is really proud of is the Lego wall, which is fulfilling a boyhood dream. As a kid he was often disappointed with the Lego selection at toy stores, so he has made it a goal to carry a wide variety of sets.
There is a demo table which often has an unboxed board game for people to try out. The gift wrapping station and a selection of cards make it a one-stop-shop for preparing to attend a birthday party.
Turner Toys still offers the birthday club, which is essentially a gift registry for a birthday child. The family comes in and picks out gifts for the child which are put in a basket with the child’s name on it. Guests of their party can come into the store and choose any of the items in the basket to purchase for the birthday child.
Sloan feels the store came out really well. Other Williston retailers have told him sales blew their mind, so he has high hopes for his store.
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Turner Toys occupies a hole in the Williston toy space that was created when Toys R Us left in 2018. Because the store has loyal Essex shoppers and now Williston, he is hoping to draw families from across the county.
The store will have its official grand opening on May 14 from 10 a.m. to noon with music, face painting, balloon animals, and some prize giveaways that include Turner Toys merchandise.
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Contact reporter April Barton at [email protected] or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.