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NASHVILLE, Ind. – Since 1970, The Toy Chest has been a staple in Brown County. It first opened on Main Street as an exhibit for founder Ed Hollis’ hand-carved circus until a fire destroyed the building ten years later.
Then, in 1988, the Toy Chest reopened in the same place you’ll still find this iconic toy store today: tucked inside the Artist Colony Shops on Van Buren Street in the heart of downtown Nashville.
Since owning The Toy Chest in 2014, Hilary Key has carried on the legacy of making Indiana’s oldest toy store the kind of place all generations can play like kids again.
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“We firmly believe that there isn’t an age when you should be out of the game,” Key said. “Which means we make a point of bringing wacky games and things to not only teens but adults as well.”
Now in his fiftiese year, The Toy Chest isn’t your average toy store.
It’s the kind of place that can bring generations together around a shared experience of play and fun through toys.
We see kids who come and tell their parents that they only want video games and that they are thrilled with a board game, ”Key said. “We see a lot of interesting connections between grandchildren and grandparents when grandparents see a toy that they know and love and sometimes it’s a children’s first exposure to a kaleidoscope… This can be really fun to see that. “
When it comes to selecting their inventory, they focus on the quality and type of game.
Think more of the “Santa’s Toy Shop” than the big box store.
“We strive for top quality… you don’t know all– we have pickle fingers for Pete’s sake – things that are just awkward and inexpensive, ”Key explained. “But there are a lot of toys that we want them to have the potential to be heirloom toys that could be passed on to future generations that aren’t going to fall apart a week after you get them.”
There’s something for everyone, from puzzles and games to sensory toys to stuffed animals, action figures and puppets, outdoor toys, building kits and craft sets and more.
“These are soapstone sculpture kits,” she explains, presenting the object. “You sculpt it, sand it and wax it… And it is becoming very popular for parents to have it made by the child. [something out of it] for a grandparent for Christmas or as a gift for someone else… it’s also a good way to emphasize that crafts are by no means just for girls.
The toy box also offers a range of STEM-based toys, including science and engineering kits and their new line called Celestial Buddies.
“Space has been really on trend over the past couple of years, but it’s never looked so cute,” she said. “They come with funny information in their label [and] they go perfectly as a gift with a space puzzle or a space book.
You’ll also find a few mainstream favorites like the TonieBox, soft speakers that read a story to your child when a Tonie figure is placed on top.
“It also comes with a Creative Tone, so now my kids have three recorded stories of me reading to them so they like to listen to them when I’m at work,” Key explained.
But one of Key’s favorite items might surprise you.
“I always feel a little weird when I tell people that my favorite thing in the whole toy store is a set of knives. Until I explain, I just look funny. she said laughing. “They can cut a raw carrot, but they can’t cut a finger, so if you really want your kids involved in the cooking and don’t want to be scared to death… These are spectacular items.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents found themselves not only working from home, but also homeschooling their children. And they viewed The Toy Chest and their line of educational toys as extremely valuable tools.
“We’re doing a lot more than ever to really help homeschoolers,” Key said. “So [parents are] here and they say, “It’s a science class!” looking at one of the chemistry sets or something.
COVID-19 impacted not only the setup inside the store (with the removal of playstation tables and hands-on demo areas), but also inventory.
“I think our craft section has tripled in size,” Key explained. “It’s crafts, games, puzzles and very purely educational… we think any game is educational, but the things you look at and it’s obviously educational is what a lot of people want in. this moment.”
You don’t even have to go in to find the perfect gift. Some of the other changes they’ve made during this “new normal” include a walk-in window, daily live Facebook videos, free delivery within 25 miles. [and $5 flat rate shipping within the United States] and tailor-made packages for all budgets and interests.
“So you could say, ‘I want a $ 50 arts and crafts package. I have 3 children. Their ages are 5.8 and 12 years old. We love mermaids, we hate dinosaurs, ”she noted. “You give us as much or as little information as you want and we’ll create this package to help you with what we call ‘Staying sane at home. “
For Key, one of the greatest assets of a local business is the personal relationships they can build and their ability to work magic when it comes to meeting the needs of their customers and their community. . During this difficult year, The Toy Chest was able to meet these needs by making personal purchases and assembling personalized packages, running a school aid program, and running a “Give Away” program. A Box ”to help bring joy to other children.
“When a family contacts us on behalf of someone and says, ‘She’s my friend, she lost her job. She has 3 kids at home and doesn’t want them to watch TV all day, but they can’t afford that level of science kits, ”Key explained. Then we could say, ‘Well, person A just spent $ 200 on a Give Away A box and now we can take that $ 200 and give it to person B’s four kids and whatever they have. need at home. “
Four things you should know about the toy box:
- The Toy Chest was first opened in 1970 by founder Ed Hollis on Main Street in downtown Nashville, Indiana. In 1988 it moved to its present location in The Artist Colony Shops at 125 S. Van Buren Street. Hilary Key has owned the store since 2014 and has carried on the legacy of making Indiana’s oldest toy store a must visit for anyone who loves to play. We firmly believe that there is not an age when you should go beyond gambling, ”she said.
- This is not your average toy store. “The great thing here is that our main focus is on play more than on toys… I really look at the playful value of the toy,” Key said. “So we make all of our decisions based on what play the child will take out of the toy and that tends to us to store a different style of toy than you might find in [a big box store]. “
- Just in time for holiday shopping, The Toy Chest released their holiday catalog (which is also available online on their website). They also offer custom vacation packages and storage packages. They also recently launched their “SUPER Sticker Club,” a subscription club that gives your child 12 sticker sheets for $ 15 per month.
- If you are looking to spread a little cuteness, they also have a ‘Give Away A Box’ option, where you can donate a box of toys to a family who is going through a tough time and in need of a little magic. holidays.
Key and his team have clearly worked to sow a seed of positivity despite the difficult year they have also faced as a local business. In turn, they felt an immense amount of love from their community.
“I’ve never seen support for small businesses in this way,” Key said through tears. “We posted a month behind in reaching our goal of being down 30% and the response we got in a few days meant that we only ended this month down by 11% when we were seated about 50%. . “
“The support and the kindness… I have had clients who sent me flowers,” she added. “Customers who said to themselves, ‘I know it’s been a tough year’ and I said to myself, ‘You are so nice … Thank you! “
For more information on The Toy Chest, check out their website by clicking here. To see more photos and reviews of local Yelpers, check out their Yelp profiles. You can also connect with them on social media through Facebook and Instagram.
Looking for more places to shop in Nashville? Check out a few of these other beloved Brown County favorites:
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