Frederick Md Welcomes Small Businesses…
Frederick Maryland has a unique and vibrant business community. Entrepreneurs and small businesses alike find success here, and here is a business that certainly thrives:
Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts, a family-owned and operated specialty toy store in the heart of historic Downtown Frederick, Md, is the “world’s best battery-free toy store.” From art supplies to science kits, to building sets. There are lots of Puppets and plush: elephants, dragons and puppies…the Folkmanis puppets are adorable. They’ve got teddy bears, soft dolls, and organic plush, too. You’ll find vintage toys like gyroscopes and tiddlywinks. They have sock Monkeys!! I mean, I haven’t traveled the whole world, but I don’t think they’re exaggerating:)
The bookshelves are full of the classics, the award-winners, board books and activity books, from babies to middle school age. Their game room is stocked with the old and the new. This is the place to ensure that a child’s (and adult’s) imagination will be nurtured and blossom.
Tom and Marlene England, owners of Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts since they launched the business in 2000, are on a mission: To put some play in everyone’s day. Well, I have to say, Mission Accomplished!
Meeting Bears on Social Media
I’ve been visiting the Bear for a few years, but I met Marlene through Social Media, specifically Twitter. On a trip downtown with my daughter, mother-in-law, and grandmother, we landed at the Bear. We were on the hunt for an old game called Sequence, not having much luck. I “checked in” on Foursquare, (more social media), and Marlene responded to me with a tweet, “Hope you had fun at the bear.” So I responded that I was looking for a game, but couldn’t find it. And lucky me, they ordered it for me. Gotta love social media♥.
Marlene and Tom have found that Social Media is a useful tool, not only to connect with customers, get feedback and enhance service, but it has also been a great tool for connecting with other small businesses in their industry.
Launched Into Their Dream
So how do an Environmental Scientist and a Communications major end up selling toys and games on Main Street? The proverbial fork in the road came after almost a dozen years in government contract work, when Tom was beginning to be disenchanted with the lack of real change in his industry. When at the end of a contract he was faced with the choice of moving out west to begin the next contract, the time seemed right to jump into their dream business. They reasoned that they would regret waking up in their 60’s wondering “What if?”
Marlene had already formed impressions about running a small business by the influence of her parent’s business in Martinsburg, WV. Her childhood memories of her Dad’s service station are of conscientious hard work and customer service, and of the community that developed around that service.
“The great thing about owning a toy store,” laughs Tom, “is that you never have to grow up! The day it becomes a job is the day we quit.”
Tom and Marlene are all about creating an experience for visitors at the Bear. They enjoy seeing faces light up as they enter, both children and adults. They are beginning to see young adults who grew up in Frederick come back and share childhood memories with their friends. As well as knowing many local visitors by name, they are seeing a lot of out-of-town visitors as Frederick has become more of a Destination Location in the last few years. People really enjoy the hands-on approach the England’s encourage. Kids can touch, games can be tried, and Tom and Marlene and their kids have played them ALL.
They told me stories of children with special needs being able to play with learning tools and games under the guidance of their therapist, as the parents learned what games were the right ones for their needs. Through the store, Tom and Marlene hope to make at least a small difference in people’s lives of families and their community.
Marlene writes Play At The Bear, the store’s blog, which features articles about child development, new games and toys, and events at Dancing Bear.
“The best thing about owning a store in a place like Frederick is the sense of community you develop.” says Tom. Not only the relationships developed with customers, but with the downtown merchant community. They enjoy a camaraderie and cooperative environment downtown.
I have to ask, How has the Recession affected the Bear?
The recession has only affected their business positively; they see more families coming in to buy a $20 game for “Family Game Night”, instead of spending $50 on “movie night”. They’ve seen a growing awareness of buying toys that last and of shopping local.
What’s In The Future For The Bear?
Tom and Marlene would love to open a second store, but emphasized that it would have to be in a place like Frederick, with the same spirit of community and quaint authenticity that they’ve found in the Historic District. After a minute or two of trying to come up with a few likely places, we shrugged and said, almost in unison, “there is no place like Frederick!”
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(from the blog)
Neighborhood Toy Store Day—Saturday, November 12— Dancing Bear is giving a little extra to help local kids in and around our neighborhood. We’ve selected six charities to benefit from our day of fun. Here’s how you can play along…
For every $10 you spend at Dancing Bear on Neighborhood Toy Store Day, we’ll hand you a crisp $1 bill to give to your choice of the following nonprofits:
- Advocates for Homeless Families
- Boys and Girls Club/Burck Street of Frederick County
- Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership
- Frederick Alliance for Youth
- Heartly House
- Sagner PAL (Police Activities League)
We’ll have donation jars for each charity at the checkout counter. All you have to do is pick the one that gets your dollar. If you spend $20, we’ll give you $2…spend $30, we’ll give you $3…shop big and spend $100, we’ll give you $10. You get the idea.
Enjoy, and add some play to your day,