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Cassandra Mathis, Alakazam Toys
by The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association   |   February 26   |   0 Comments
For Cassandra Mathis being a neighborhood toy store means being connected to the community.  Since 2005 Alakazam Toys has been supporting play in Charlottesville, VA.  We caught up with Cassandra to learn about her experience as a neighborhood toy store owner and she even tells us what Alakazam Toys has in plan for Dr. Seuss’s Birthday on Saturday. 

How did I wind up in the specialty toy industry?

It was 1985. I was a young mother going to school part time to finish a graphic design degree, and needed a part time job to help with expenses. I found an interesting part time position managing the wholesale division of Stockmar art materials, for a very small mail order company Hearthsong (they also had a retail store). Just about the time I was finishing up with school and going to go out and work in that field-there was a merchandising assistant position open. This was within about 6 months. The company was growing in leaps and bounds. I was hired to work 20 hours, but the position was more like 30 hours. Before I knew it I was going to toy fair in Nuremberg. And New York, then I was attending Hong Kong and doing product development.   I’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and in 2002 I decided to take the leap from Vice President of Merchandising and PD to Toy Store owner.

What does being a neighborhood toy store mean to you?

Neighborhood Toy Store means being connected to community.  Alakazam supports local schools and non- profits and events. Our customers support us, because we have creative toys and they know that the money they spend locally (3/50) goes back into the community.  I see families that shop in my store at the gym, grocery store, hiking …..I have mothers that have shopped in my store from birth to now….some of the kids are almost too old for a toy store experience, or so they say!  We have an easel we put a joke on every day in front of our store.   It brings people in –I love seeing the expressions on their face as they are either trying to guess or get the answer. To me, that is community-even if they don’t spend money that day….their day is positively charged!

How can parents foster imaginative play in their home?

Parents can foster imaginative play in their homes by being loving, kind and present parents. Painting, dancing and singing combined with storytelling is great. It’s good to have time to be spontaneous, rather than just structured time.

Saturday is Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, how are you celebrating?

We will have some cupcakes and sing happy birthday for Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

How do you choose the products you carry?

I like to choose products that will inspire children to take their interests or play to the next level.  Open ended….value added products. Crafts and kits must have good materials and instructions.   Age appropriateness is important. I try to put myself in the parent and child’s shoes; and now that I’m a grandparent, in the grandparent’s shoes.


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