Lisa Gerr has a simple rule for her employees — play.
“You’re basically a camp counselor now,” she tells them. “I want you to work with these parents; let them breathe a sigh of relief.” And if a kid picks up a toy? “They should say, ‘Yes, you can bounce that in here’ and ‘Yes, you can Hula-Hoop that there,’” said the owner of the brand-new but old-school Santa Barbara Toy Company on State Street. “I want a real toy store; I want to people to think of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.”
Maybe it hasn’t reached that spectacular height yet, but it’s a refreshing addition to town that has long supported its educational toy store with the famous stuffed bear. Our town hasn’t had a place on State Street where kids can browse the latest playthings since Tom’s Toys left in the early 2000s — unless you count the Game Seeker on the corner of State and Cota, which Gerr also owns. “This is our new little cousin,” she said of the new spot.
You can feel Gerr’s love for games as she wistfully describes growing up in a home where Sunday meant the roast was on and the game boards were out. (Guillotine, Quiddler, and backgammon are her favorites.) But the Toy Company shares just as much of her heart. “I put a lot of Lisa into the shopping for this place,” explained Gerr, who also likes to marshal figures about how many families live between Carpinteria and Isla Vista (15,000) and how much each will spend on childish things per year ($400). That combo of passion and economics is winning. From a shelf of old-school novelty items like practical jokes to beautifully appointed dolls and BB-8 robot figures from Star Wars, Gerr’s inventory is both eclectic and quality-minded. My personal test for a good toy store is the inclusion of Pustefix bubble formula for giving kids and hippies something pretty to do in a park at a party — and there it is. There’s also a shelf of classic books both Golden and Seussian.
Gerr has plans for beefing up her stock and reaching out into the neighborhoods. She has a small costume rack, with a larger supply in storage, and hopes to connect customers with her neighbors at Halloween. She’s exploring relations with the new Children’s Museum down the street, too. You can tell she gets happy when a kid picks something up in the store, and it’s not just the ka-ching cash register kind of glee. “I’m definitely one of those people who thinks that families that play also stay together,” she said.
527 State Street; (805) 564-0000; santabarbaratoycompany.com