When it comes to toys, most children only know of toy aisles in big box stores with goods stacked on shelves lining linoleum aisles, sometimes with their parents warning them not to touch or break any products.
Former special education paraprofessional Amy Howard decided that kids deserved a toy store that was accessible to all children. She has opened a store in Abilene, Trollslända, and invited both children and adults to play amongst the toys.
Long before Howard went into the toy business, she grew up in Northwestern Kansas. She would later move to North Central Kansas with her husband where they would find their forever home. While her husband worked in the oil industry, Howard started working in education with a focus on special education.
“I got to learn more about what kids need for their minds, how their minds work and how to help enhance their educational skills,” Howard said.
While still working as a paraprofessional, she assisted her friend who owned a toy store in Lindsborg, as well as working three other part-time jobs. Howard, who loved all her busy work, felt that she wasn’t spending enough time with her family. So when her friend decided she wanted to close the store, Howard prayed about taking the chance of buying and running the store with her family.
“I really had no intentions of ever running a toy store,” she said. “We just prayed about it and that’s where God led us….Now I kind of laugh about it, but I was thinking I would put in fewer hours if I owned a toy store, which was really funny. However, it is such a joy. I loved all my jobs, I had to do what God was asking us to do.”
The decision of owning a toy store came with the opportunity of creating a space of her own to help children, but also came with a sorrowful goodbye.
“Oh, my heart was broken, leaving being (an educator),” Howard said. “I was a special ed para, I got to grow with the kids and I got to see them at every stage of their growing. Sometimes as a teacher, you might not be able to have that one-on-one with a student. I know they love all the kids, but I got the one-on-one. I got to see how a situation started to clear the final process and that was what my sadness was going to be. I was moving into the position of just seeing them occasionally…I told my husband, I cried when I had to leave my job. Then I realized really soon — because a couple of my students came in and sat in the toy store with me, they sat there and played while I was waiting on customers — and just seeing them and them seeing me was a source of relaxation and calm. It was beautiful.”
With God’s guidance and her experience with special education, Howard decided to make her toy store accessible to all children through fidget toys and softer lighting.
“We really had a need for more fidgets,” she said. “It was not in style, then of course, but it was something that the kids needed to just keep their hands busy and so their bodies didn’t have to be so busy. They can sit and relax and partake and still hear the teacher while having a little bit of movement that they need.”
After moving to Dickinson County two years later, Howard decided she wanted to create a sister-store to the original toy store in Lindsborg.
“We came and explored Abilene and just fell in love with the town, the community,” Howard said. “It has been so welcoming and so beautiful.”
Starting out with a pop-up store during Abilene Oktoberfest, she found excitement from the local community and pushed forward with finding a location in the community for her toy store. Once she found the store front on Northwest Third Street, Howard got to work by opening up every Tuesday for customers.
“People are so genuinely wanting us to stay,” she said. “It’s just been beautiful. I’ve actually had a couple people who were very disappointed that we weren’t here on other days than Tuesday. They’ve been very very patient with me. Trying to juggle it and still remain a family owned and operated business is a little bit hard, especially during Christmas. But people work with me and they make me yearn to come over here even on my days where I would usually be doing something for the house. I came over and opened up the store a couple extra days.”
Maintaining a store filled with educational and colorful toys, soft lighting and areas for kids to play, Howard welcomes children of all ages to come and touch all her unique toys.
“I’ve heard several squeals when (children) come in the door,” Howard said. “They get excited because a lot of them have never been to a toy store before and so to get to sit down and play with wooden toys. The wooden ball track toy and the wooden doll house, it’s so fun to watch them. We have a game at the table that they get to play with and build and they don’t have to worry if something drops. They are just nice toys and they don’t break if you drop them, so the kids can feel at ease. One day a little girl was looking at a package and the package tore a little bit. She was almost in tears telling me what had happened. I said no problem at all. We really want the kids to feel welcome and come in and play and explore.”
With a passionate reaction from the local community, Howard’s 2022 goal focuses on opening the store for more days and hours in the week.
“Our goal is to be here at least part-time with at least four days a week,” she said. “That is going to be determined by what the owner and I can discuss…But early in the new year, we really hope to have something set in stone that I can announce to people, because they have been curious.”