Lindsay Williamson didn’t anticipate becoming a toy store owner.
But now, two stores, eight years and many toys later, she’s settled in to her role with as much enthusiasm as the children and college students who excitedly peruse her store shelves.
“I just always knew I wanted to work for myself, be my own boss, call my own shots ... and be able to have something that my kiddo could come on with me,” Williamson said.
The State High graduate, who owns children’s toy and clothing store Animal Kingdom at 103 S. Allen St., took over Growing Tree Toys at 202 S. Allen St. on July 1 from former owner Kay Emigh, who retired after 46 years in the business. The two stores are operating as “sister stores.”
Growing Tree was open for Arts Fest, said Williamson, then closed for four weeks while she and her team did renovations on the space.
“Most of what we did was very cosmetic aesthetics, and it just opened everything up,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that walls should be neutral, because your color should come from your products.”
Some funky design accents include a spider chandelier and the original tin ceilings restored to “a really fun gold,” she said.
Williamson knows that big-box stores like Target and Walmart carry lots of kids’ toys and games, but she said coming to Growing Tree Toys, “You get the ‘experience.’ You get us.”
Now that she’s taken over the other toy store downtown, Williamson said she’s stocking a variety of toys, from classic games and dolls to science-themed toys and the latest figurine fads. The store carries My Little Pony, Playmobil, Calico Critters, a variety of developmental toys, vehicles, dinosaurs, animal toys, books, games and more.
“Here, I think for a long time it was viewed so much as a kids’ store, and although that’s true, we are hoping to bridge that gap,” she said. College students make up half her business at Animal Kingdom, and she wants to continue that at Growing Tree Toys. She also hopes to stock more adult and party games, and host a game night at the new store.
She’s also managed to keep up with the craziest toy trends over the years. Right now, llama, alpaca and sloth-themed toys are really “in,” replacing Grumpy Cat, the World’s Cutest Dog Boo and the hippopotamus craze. But she draws the line at slime.
“Ugh!” she said. “As a mom ... it just gets on clothes, on carpet, on hair.” The store carries Crazy Aaron’s Putty — a much less sticky toy — instead.
Growing Tree Toys is hosting a grand opening on Sept. 28, from 3-5 p.m., the same day as Pop Up Ave in downtown State College. Williamson will be giving away sweet treats, snacks, goody bags and raffling off some big-ticket items.
“We’re so excited to be here and serve the community,” she said.
Over the years, Williamson has seen the toy industry grow and change as much as her 8-year-old daughter, who helps with marketing and loves to hang out at both toy stores.
“She is my world beyond work, and sometimes that’s very fluid,” said Williamson. Now that her daughter’s older and is starting to tell her friends what her mom does for a living, they think it’s really cool, she said.
“Even full grown adults, we all have a kid inside of us,” she said. Later, she added: “It’s hard to hate your job when you work in a toy store.”