VERO BEACH – Just a few steps up Beachland Boulevard off Ocean Drive is one of the barrier island’s newest and most unique stores.
It is not dripping in diamonds or featuring the latest haute couture, but for the first time most anyone with long standing ties to the community can remember, there is a toy store on the beach side of the bridges. Beachside Toys, a 570-square-foot retail outlet, is a smaller version of a Beachside Toys in Indian Harbor Beach owned by Stephanie Nicholson.
She got the idea to open the store when local resident Diane Hager asked if Nicholson might be interested in setting up shop in Vero Beach.
Hager, a grandma with two grandkids, was making the 40-mile trek to Indian Harbor Beach because it was the only toy store that offered the kind of children’s toys she wanted for her family.
“I was looking for something a little more unusual with more quality,” Hager said.
Nicholson stocks toy lines such as Melissa and Doug, Playmobil, Corrolle Dolls and Leggo, that emphasize engagement by the child rather than electronic gizmos which go in and out of favor.
“It’s not toys that do things, it’s toys that kids do,” Nicholson said. “We are actually engaging their brain and teaching them to problem solve. The games that we offer are all those skills that they need as they grow. Our philosophy is that kids play and that is what we want them to do — marbles, pick-up sticks, blocks, Slinkies all the toys that we remember when we were growing up.”
The store, located at 966 Beachland Boulevard, replaced Twirl Kids’ Boutique after it moved to Ocean Drive, and opened without much fanfare in October.
Hager, who runs the store for Nicholson, said most of her business thus far has been from walk-ins curious to see what they have to offer.
“They tell us, ‘Oh, I am so happy you are here, we have needed a toy store for so long,'” Hager said. “They look around and say, ‘I’ll be back.’ Hopefully they will.”
The Beachland Toys Vero Beach store is tiny compared to Nicholson’s 3,000-square-foot shop up north, but it carries all her most popular toys and shoppers here will have access to anything she carries at her larger location.
“We will tweak our inventory as we see what happens in Vero Beach,” Nicholson said. “I don’t have the luxury of putting out every item because of the space limitations. As we see what people are asking for we will adjust the inventory as it is requested. What we did to open was take a few our best sellers and see how those did.”
Hager said while the business is developing, she has seen the grandparents shopping for their grandkids and some other types of customers have stopped in as well.
“So far the majority of what I see are grandparents,” she said. “On the weekends, though, I see young families come in or people staying in the hotels, they come over with their children. A lot of people are here on vacation and want to take something back to their 4-year-old. We listened and learned and have put together a Florida-ocean-tropical section so people can take something back that says I have been to Florida.”
One of the things you won’t find at Beachland Toys is the newest electronic “it toy” that all the kids have got to have.
“I would have to say that a classic basic toy is still the most desired and has the most play quality,” Hager said. “Whether it is wooden blocks or a nice doll or a nice stuffed animal, you don’t have to worry about our toys breaking or falling apart. As far as something you will see selling for the kids on a commercial basis, that is not necessarily us. That would be more of the department store or Wal-Mart stuff.”
Nicholson admits the competition from stores like Target and Wal-Mart is fierce, and if the store is to succeed it must be from the quality of the merchandise she offers and the service afforded her customers.
“We can’t compete with the big box stores,” she said. “But we will have things that kids have a need for and we will be able to show you why it is good, what it does and how it will help with the child’s learning and development.”
It remains an open question if beachside residents will support a toy store.
No one can remember such a store ever existing on the barrier island, and out west, the Toys R Us shut down for under performance.
“Anybody can sell toys at Christmas,” Nicholson said. “We want to see how we do through season and will evaluate after that. The people that have walked by and stopped in have been really excited about it and tell us they are coming back now that they know we are here. We’ll see, we will stay open as long as people want us here.”