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Sonoma’s Toy Shop perseveres to celebrate 40 years

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Four decades ago, the most popular toys of 1978 were the Rubik’s Cube and the Atari 2600 gaming console, according to online statistics. That’s also the year the venerable Toy Shop kicked off an amazing 40-year run in Sonoma – and the West Napa Street toy store will be marking the occasion with a family-friendly event this Saturday, Sept. 15.

Michelle Boldt, owner of the Toy Shop since 2016, and employee since 2000, has a blend of nostalgia and excitement both for her toy store as well as this weekend’s event. She’ll be accompanied on Saturday by her staff, which includes longtime employees Jennie Haviland and Diane Egger-Bovet, who have each worked at the shop for almost two decades.

Boldt, who bought the store in June of 2017, smiles as she says, “It’s nice that the exact 40-year anniversary falls on a Saturday so we can make a big event out of it.” Included in the festivities will be face-painting, raffles, games and crafts. Boldt is excited that the previous two owners of the Toy Shop, original owner Dee Matthews and Carla Haskell, who bought it from Matthews in the early 1990s, will be there for the celebration as well.

As she surveys the well-stocked store, Boldt talks about today’s most popular toys.

“Everything unicorn,” she says with a somewhat surprised intonation.

Jenee Haviland chimes in from behind the register: “Anything having to do with unicorns. Stuffed animals, figures… poop.” Rest assured, “unicorn poop” is merely a slime toy that features rainbow colors and sparkles because, what else would a magical, mythical beast’s waste be like?

Boldt goes on to say that new spins on classic toys like slime and Silly Putty are hugely popular, as are figures from the television show “Paw Patrol” and, of course, Legos. Moving down a new aisle, one stocked with prehistoric beasts, Boldt adds, “Dinosaurs are also making a comeback which is nice to see.”

After almost 20 years as a medical secretary, Boldt signed on to sell toys almost 20 years ago because she wanted more flexibility to spend time with her three children. Clearly, the move was a good one, as Boldt seems thrilled to still be in the game.

Indeed, the Toy Shop has outlasted such big-box toy stores as Kaybee Toys, which folded in 2009, as well as Toys “R” Us, which earlier this summer announced it had filed bankruptsy and would sell off all 735 of its locations in the United States. When asked how she stays competitive with the ever-booming Internet – specifically Amazon – Boldt says, “Our prices on Lego items are totally in line with Amazon and big-box stores like Target.”

She also adds that the popular Calico Critters – small, well articulated animal families that come with a wide variety of housing options – are no longer available at big chain stores. Showing off a large collection, Boldt says, “When Calico Critters started, they only sold to brick-and-mortar stores. Then they went big and were available everywhere. But, now, they’re only available in stores again.”

In addition to listening to her customers, Boldt says she has a toy-sales rep that keeps her updated on the latest and most buzzed-about toys. She also attends “Toy Fest West” annually in Las Vegas and is gathering intel now on the must-have toys for the 2018 holiday season.

Among the Toy Shop’s most popular categories are a deep selection of puzzles and games for all ages, as well as children’s books. Boldt offers in-store gift registry for upcoming birthdays, with each child’s name and wish list selections listed on a sandwich board that sits outside the store for all to see. “And we also always have free gift wrap,” says Boldt, excitedly. The Toy Shop’s 40-Year anniversary party is from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15. The event is family-friendly and free. The store is located at 201 W. Napa St.