Shop Talk: Toy Stories
Crackerjacks owner Linda Laramy stands with the store’s iconic Playmobile pirate “whose head fell off and rolled down the street once!” she exclaims. “The “backwards” front door opens into the charming toy store where shoppers will find games, kits, puzzles, crafts, collectibles, and oversized unicorns.
Meet three local retailers who can supply all the fun and games your family will love this summer.
BY MAIRE MCARDLE
When you push open the antique “backwards door” into Easton’s beloved nostalgic toy store Crackerjacks, you are instantly transported to another time.
Owner Linda Laramy reminisces with a laugh when asked about how she named her shop. “It was a fluke! I randomly thought of how I loved to dig inside the box of caramel-coated popcorn for the toy and thought, ‘that’s a good name! Let’s go with it!’”
Forty-one years later, the Washington Street landmark remains a favorite shopping destination.
Laramy had lived in Aspen, Colorado, where she owned a retail store called the Aspen Tea and Spice Company. “I did have a little background in retail,” she said. After arriving in Easton in 1979, “we looked around and noticed there wasn’t a toy store, so we thought it might be a good idea to open one. The rest is history!”
In the early 80s, Laramy’s two toddlers often would come to the store with her. “When they weren’t crying or demanding my attention, their presence was often a great sales tool. While they played on the floor with a colorful ball or baby doll, I’d often hear a customer remark, ‘I’ll take one of those!’”
Grandparents are her best customers. They shop for birthdays and holidays throughout the year but in the summer, their grandkids come in with them. Recalling a recent happening, Laramy shared how a youngster convinced her grandmother that the store’s life-size white unicorn in the window was the best possible thing in the universe and that she couldn’t live without it.
“Happily for us, the grandmother agreed and bought the unicorn. Her granddaughter was beside herself with happiness. We all enjoyed watching her!”
Laramy reflects how much she enjoys her interaction with customers, especially young parents. Sometimes she’ll hear a mom say to her child, “I used to come here when I was your age!”
Aptly labeled “a good, old-fashioned toy store,” Laramy’s merchandising does not follow the trend to offer more high-tech toys. Recognizing that there is a clear shift to electronic gadgets with added bells and whistles even on toys for the youngest of children, she does attend the annual specialty toy convention of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, and is also a member of The Good Toy Group. This introduces her to lots of new traditional and tech toys she never would have known about.
Laramy observes that today’s kids have clever minds and is encouraged to see that they find new creative ways to enjoy traditional toys. But she jests, “Robotics and coding toys for older kids has left me in the dust!”
“I have a wonderful staff who I feel love their jobs and are so enthusiastic about our store. Ultimately, my wish would be for a younger person to come along and buy Crackerjacks and take it into the 21st century.”
Hours: Mon-Thurs: 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Fri: 9:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
Sat: 9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Sundays in Nov. and Dec.: 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Playing board games, assembling plastic model kits, and constructing train sets with intricate villages can be lifelong hobbies passed down as cherished traditions.
Wade Miller, the franchise owner of Hobbytownin Easton, wants to keep those options available for all generations. “I knew there was a need to continue to offer the kinds of specialty items we carry,” he pledged. Miller opened the store at its current location in October 2012 as his first foray in a retail business. Having been a frequent shopper at this same franchise back in the 1980s, Miller felt strongly that it was a great opportunity to keep a store like this in the Shore area.
His favorite part of owning this business is being able to put smiles on kids’ faces and seeing the enjoyment that his customers have when they discover the carefully curated products in his store.
Wade Miller, top, is a shop owner who loves to interact with his customers and help suggest the best remote-controlled purchase.
“I would say the biggest trend is the one that most small businesses fight everyday: the internet — how to get customers to buy local and not just purchase online. What our store offers is the personal interaction at the counter. By being in the store, I can advise, suggest, test, repair, and tinker. I take care of our customers,” Miller said.
While it may appear that Hobbytown leans toward male-geared toys and kits, Miller finds that the STEM products he carries are interesting to many girls and he also stocks a wide assortment of puzzles, crafts, and many traditional toys.
Website: hobbytown.com (must select this store)
Hours: Monday-Friday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
The Game Guys
From left to right: Matt LaCurts, Dante Santos, and Wade Zulauf at Portals Games and Comics in Easton
How do game-playing friends make the world a better place? They open a games and comics store!
Just over a year ago, Wade Zulauf and Matt LaCurts combined their own capital, got business loans along with sweat equity contributed by extended family to open Portals Games and Comics, providing customers with a part store-part rec center.
Starting off like most youngsters playing family board games, Zulauf reminisces about time spent with family and friends into the wee hours of the night. Back in their middle school days, both were obsessed with the 1990s game, Magic: the Gathering, one of the first collectible and digital strategic card games.
Zulauf offers, “Being part of a community is the most favorite thing about owning the store. Since we opened, “We’ve been told by many customers that they had trouble finding people to meet and hang out with, and now they have a huge, wonderful community that they are a part of. We are a family in a way. We look out for each other, and to be part of that is an honor.”
LaCurts adds, “I’d like to echo Zulauf’s sentiment about community. It was actually part of our original idea for the store to be a community center for people to have a safe, comfortable place to play games; the retail half is there to support the game play area. We have numerous families or parent/kid teams that have joined our Dungeons & Dragons nights regularly since we opened.”
Giving a shout out to his store employee Dante Santos for his personal rapport with new customers, Zulauf acknowledges his contribution to creating a nurturing game learning environment. With the trend tilting away from the screen time, Portals is attracting parents and children, local educators, homeschooled kids, and even Girl Scout troops. There’s an enrichment value in playing games together. Students with learning challenges have assimilated into game groups at the store, finding new friends with common interests.
“People want to dive into a character or keep up with a storyline because they loved a movie that just launched. Our Dungeons & Dragons crowd has absolutely taken this scene by storm. It has the highest turnout and the highest number of new players joining. We have a constantly growing tabletop/war gaming scene (think War Hammer) that we even absorb players from Delaware who come through to join the fun,” Zulauf states.
For shoppers who are not game and comic enthusiasts, the miniatures and painting offerings have become the most popular portion of their store, spanning across many genres.
Zulauf continues, “We host events daily, and we have Learn-to-Play dates weekly. We keep our event calendar updated on our website’s homepage.”
Hours: Mon-Thurs: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sat: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sun: 11 a.m.-6 p.m.