Think back to some of your favorite family memories and I bet at least one of them involves play of some form – a board game night, tossing a ball around on a sunny day, maybe more recently putting together a mural-like puzzle? Geppetto’s Toys has been helping foster those feelings of fun-filled experiences in Coronado for two and half years, and especially now, when families are spending more time together in their homes than ever before during a pandemic.
San Diego local, Brian Miller, has seen the importance of games and play throughout his life. “My parents took over a family business of a little toy store and gift shop at the Hotel Del. When I came back to San Diego from school on the East Coast, I loved it so much that I took the toy concept and grew it.” Miller has opened multiple Geppetto’s Toys around San Diego county since then and was happily able to bring one back to Coronado where he’s seen tremendous support from the local community, especially in hard-hitting months with COVID-19.
“The first 3 months of COVID were disastrous, but in Coronado we could do curbside pickup and we’ve seen [small town] stores like Coronado bouncing back. Really it’s the locals that have helped it bounce back big time.” Miller recalls being surprised by seeing numbers actually even going up in Coronado for the first few months of quarantine. “Locals really did come out with people wanting to stay closer to home with their shopping and trying to be supportive of locals shops.”
Miller’s longtime friend and former manager of the Coronado shop, Sharon Axelson, (who had worked with his parents in their original toy shop), recently retired and helped select the new manager for Geppetto’s Toys on the island, local Colette O’Brien. “Sharon knows the community so well and she helped pick Colette for manager who has also grown up in here and has probably babysat half of the kids in Coronado,” Miller jokes as he mentions O’Brien being a big help from the start when Geppetto’s opened on the island.
“Geppetto’s is truly a family owned business,” said O’Brien. “By family, often the whole family will come and help when there is work to be done. Whenever Brian brings his wife Danielle and their two sons Nathan and Jared to the store, I’m reminded how authentic their love of toys is and the importance of hard work balanced with play in bonding a family together. Even their dog comes along and provides moral support for the staff.”
Both Miller and O’Brien share an appreciation for the value of play in children’s development and the benefits of games to all generations. “I’m a child at heart, and one of my favorite things to do is help kids learn and explore the world through play. Brian taught me that a child’s work is play – it’s serious business actually,” O’Brien said when talking about her work at Geppetto’s. While O’Brien loves the excitement of managing a toy store, she recognizes the challenges associated with the many different roles you have to play in retail, not to mention the added challenges in the midst of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 hasn’t stopped kids from playing,” O’Brien notes. “On busy days, I feel like I’m working at a ride at Disneyland because a line will form and I have to monitor the door.”
Currently the store in Coronado is open with safety guidelines in place that limit the number of customers in the space at one time and requires anyone entering to be wearing a mask. “We are doing the best we can to help people get the toys they need. During this pandemic, we have seen much more online orders and phone orders. Shipping and curbside pickup remain popular. The maximum capacity is nine because we are a smaller space,” O’Brien explains.
When asked about any trends they’ve been seeing while people have been sheltering in place, Miller and O’Brien agree that both puzzles and classic games have seen a lot of renewed interest. “Puzzles and building toys (Lego, Magna-Tile, etc) flew off the shelves. Games like Monopoly and Scrabble were gone in the first few weeks and we are just now getting these games again,” O’Brien said for the Coronado shop.
Miller adds that overall, “There was something like a 400% increase in puzzle sales and people got hooked on it. They’re still doing well as more options become available. They’re so wholesome and great for problem solving and mental development – for both younger and older people.”
For upcoming popular products, Miller foresees games that allow a break from screen time. “Everyone’s on their screen more right now…kids staying at home and having classes online, even parents working from home, experiencing more screen time.”
He recommends games that have nothing to do with a screen, that give a break from that, “So classic games for together time, games for people of all ages that get the whole family together around the table playing a game.”
Popularity for products in categories like arts and crafts, active and outdoors, puzzles, and classic games are on the rise with favorites including Mixy Squish (colorful, air dried clay for sculpting), tie-dye kits, and a variety of HearthSong inflatable sports games for backyard fun. “Mixy Squish is great for working on fine motor skills for younger kids while for older kids tie-dye is all the rage right now,” Miller says bemusedly of the old-school trend making a strong come back. He mentions classics like Monopoly and Stratego still offering great options for different age ranges, as well as newer style games such as Settlers of Catan and Genius Square and subsequent Genius Star offering fresh family fun and opportunities to develop critical thinking and problem solving along with a tactile, hands-on experience which is a great element that kids can engage with.
While the pandemic has created challenges around a variety of aspects including safety guidelines and inventory, suppliers, and shipping being at different levels of operation right now across country, state, and even county lines, Miller and his team have been working to provide customers with the best and safest possible experiences. “We’ve worked on our website and created a system to order online and either deliver to [a customer’s] house or to their car outside with curbside pickup. We’re trying to meet customer where they are.” Geppetto’s Toys also creates print catalogs that they mail out which Miller has found has seen renewed success with people being at home. The catalog can also be viewed on their website, where customers can also sign up for the mailing list to get the newest catalog which will go out in November.
There’s an inherent joy to working in toys that is obvious in the way Miller and O’Brien talk about their experiences at Geppetto’s Toys. “It is an all-around rewarding job considering people are happy when they walk into a toy store and even happier when they walk out with toys,” O’Brien says, whose favorite part of the job is talking to children about their favorite toys. “They teach me a lot – not just about toys; my knowledge on animals and dinosaurs has expanded since working here.”
Miller recalls a time he was in one of his stores on a school day and a young child was in the store with their parent. “I asked him if he had the day off of school and was told it was his birthday and he had been given a choice to go to Legoland or Geppetto’s and he wanted to go to Geppetto’s. It doesn’t get much more rewarding than that!”
Geppetto’s Toys is located at 1146 Orange Avenue and is open from 9-7 Monday-Saturday, and 10-6 on Sundays. To contact the store call 619-522-0918, or for more information visit their website at https://www.geppettostoys.com/.