For decades, Mal’s Toy Shop has been putting smiles on the faces of children in a country town on the New South Wales North Coast.
It’s a throwback to simpler times, before online shopping, the growth of discount department stores, and phrases like “screen time.”
Owner Mal Geary has run the Taree business for almost 30 years and said seeing the joy it brings to children has been a highlight.
“The look in the eyes of the children when they enter the store, the parents tell me that it is a real experience to come to a store like this, because they are not used to it,” he said. -he declares.
“Seeing the kids, they’re so happy and they’re running around the shop, it just makes me happy.”
A brief conversation with locals is enough to confirm that for many, a visit to Mal’s toy store was a highlight of their early childhood.
“I remember when I was about four years old, running from my house down the street to Mal’s toy store,” said former Taree resident Adam Easter.
“I was dressed as Superman, I had a dishcloth around my neck with a pin in it, and I ran to Mal’s store because there were only toys everywhere.”
Memories through the generations
Another local, Leanne Northam, said the shop had been a treasured place for her children.
“One of our favorite memories is of a time when our daughter, Chloe, loved her models and didn’t want to give them up, but she really wanted a [Toy Story] Buzz Lightyear toy,” she said.
“So we arranged with Mal to have Chloe bring her models to ‘buy’ the Buzz Lightyear doll. We still have that doll 15 years later.”
Mr Geary said he enjoyed getting to know the local families.
“There are a lot of loyal customers, some from years ago their kids have grown up and now we see their kids coming in and buying for their bubbles.”
“They say to me, holding a baby in their arms: ‘Do you know who I am?’ and I try to place their faces because the last time I saw them was when they were six or seven.”
Mr Geary also recalled a time before the rise in credit card use, when rest stops were very popular.
“In the first 10 years it was really good, there were so many people, we had hundreds and hundreds of rest areas then,” he said.
“We had our shed full, our house full, upstairs in our house, every room was full of toys.”
Traditional toy stores under growing pressure
The era of Mal’s Toy Shop is about to come to an end, with the business due to close at the end of the month.
“We’ve been moving forward for years, and I think it’s time, things have certainly changed in the toy industry,” Mr. Geary said.
“I don’t think there are many independent toy shops left in New South Wales, and that’s the same across the country.”
Mr Geary said children’s play habits were changing.
“It’s hard, kids these days tend to want electronics, [they] want phones and iPads and stuff like that,” he said.
“It tends to be younger kids now, once they’re around five or six, they don’t want toys, they want electronics.
“You’re fine so far, especially with ABC TV character toys based on shows like In the Night Garden, but once they get over that, they tend not to want it anymore.”
Meanwhile, it was confirmed in June this year that 44 Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us stores in Australia would be closed.
Industry analysts at IBISWorld said the company’s failure could be blamed on “intense internal and external competition” and the movement of online consumers to discount department stores.
Favorite toys over the years
Mr Geary said trends and toys have passed over the years, but some have remained popular.
“Yo-yo [and] fidget spinners were among the biggest, Cabbage Patch dolls are still popular, toy prams for girls and Tonka trucks are still popular with boys.
“Lego [and] Star Wars remains very popular, and years ago Furby toys were very popular,” he said.
Mr Geary said his daughter Sally stepped in and helped him run the store after his wife Trish died 10 years ago, and it would be hard to see the business shut down.
“Sally stopped here and helped me out and I definitely couldn’t have survived without her, she was a blessing,” he said.
“I’m very sad, I have mixed emotions about the store closing, but I’m getting to that age and it’s time for a break.”