HUDSON — The milestone is not a fairy tale.
A local, independent toy shop on Main Street that opened in 1977, Land of Make Believe, is celebrating 40 years of business.
“It’s been around for 40 years in various incarnations,” said Richard Harrison, who owns the store with his brother Robert. Their father, Ken Harrison, was also involved in the store operation when they first bought it.
And while big box stores continue to attract the lion’s share of shoppers, Harrison is optimistic, given the niche he’s established — and the recent demise of toy store giant Toys’R’Us.
“We specialize in good, quality toys for all ages you can’t find everywhere else, necessarily,” he said, adding he has toys and games for ages newborn to 12 years old.
Many of the racks and shelves display toys, puzzles and games made by Melissa & Doug, LLC of Connecticut.
“Growing up in England, there was one toy store in a certain-mile radius, and it was super, super exciting to go there,” Harrison recalls with a boyish glint in his eye. “It was near to grandma’s house and if she said we were going there, that was such an exciting thing.”
Rubbing his short, salt-and-pepper beard, Harrison said there is still a place for a child to walk into a bright and colorful place and look at toys, see what they like and touch it.
“I can’t imagine there is anything wonderful or magical to a young child to have their parents order something for them on a computer while they’re still in the house,” he said with a snicker.
Harrison said he’s seen many children come into his store and get excited. Some even cried when they had to leave without getting what they wanted. Harrison said he hopes this holiday shopping season is a good one for his store because he had to close it for a couple weeks a couple months ago because of health issues.
‘The Land’s’ history
Richard Harrison said Land of Make Believe was originally located at 134 N. Main St. (where the Fair Trade store is today) when the Sorgi family opened it. They later sold the toy store to the McMacken family who then sold it to the Harrison family.
A former school teacher, Harrison opened his first toy store in the back of his brother Robert’s sports card shop (where Land of Make Believe is located today). Richard’s store was called Jabberwocky Toys and Games, which he ran for about a year.
“We went with the ‘Land of Make Believe’ name because it had been around longer and was better known,” he said. Not long after the Harrisons took over Land of Make Believe they moved it to its present location. Richard estimates his family has owned the business for 20 years.
Harrison was teaching preschool and kindergarten at Spring Garden Waldorf School in Copley Township when he became a toy dealer. He said he doesn’t remember why he got into toys other than he’s always liked working with children.
“When my brother was doing his sports card store, he mentioned he had space in the back,” Harrison recalled. “I don’t remember what on earth made me decide to open a toy store, but I did.”
Not knowing what to do or where to start, he went to the Hudson Library and found a directory of toy and game distributors and began calling them.
“I started with things I knew like board games and card games,” Harrison said. “Then I found puppets and marionettes. And after that I found a family that made children’s costumes. It started out small. I used to space things out to make the shelves look full.”
Harrison said he was 11 years old when he came to America and “was very disappointed America didn’t have any castle ruins I could go explore on a Sunday afternoon.” He recalled when he was still in England, his father used to come home from business trips to Germany and bring back Playmobil toys when the company was in its infancy.
“I remember playing with little Playmobil knights,” he said. “They drove the little Playmobil dump truck to the Playmobil saloon because I had three toys that didn’t go together.”
A divorced father of three, Harrison has been able to test products at home and see what his kids like and don’t like. While two of his children are adults now, one is 16 and continues to help with test-playing games. “She gets to test the new ones when they come in,” he said.
Elevator Eddie was one of those games that just didn’t seem to get off the ground.
Harrison recalled placing an order for games and was a few dollars short of the minimum order, so he ordered a couple copies of a card game called Elevator Eddie.
“It came in and nobody bought the thing,” he said. “Except for a couple who were members of Mensa and did game reviews for Mensa. They came back a few days later and said, ‘This is the worst game we’ve ever played.’ They gave it a horrible rating, and they told me they gave it to a friend who collected ‘Elevator’ memorabilia.”
Harrison added that after that incident a regular customer saw Elevator Eddie on the shelf and asked about it.
“I wouldn’t buy it,” Harrison told the customer. “The people from Mensa said it was so bad they gave it away to someone who collects elevator memorabilia. He’s like, ‘Elevator memorabilia? Who collects elevator memorabilia?’”
Land of Make Believe has card games and story games that range from $9.99 to $99.99. Stuffed Fables is a story game where players take on the roles of stuffed animals who come to life at night when a little girl falls asleep and they protect her from the monsters under her bed.
“My daughter really likes this one,” he said. “We spent eight months on and off playing all the way through the stories. It’s very unique. The little girl grows older as you progress through the book.”
Land of Make Believe is located at 90 S. Main St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is 330-650-4438, and Land of Make Believe is on Facebook.
Reporter Steve Wiandt can be reached at 330-541-9420, email@example.com or @SteveWiandt_RPC.