This week, Laura, Heather and Joelle are joined by Ann Kienzle, owner of *play toys, books & gifts which opened in the former Toys Et Cetera space this past March. With locations in Logan Square and Lincoln Park, the Andersonville location marks the third neighborhood for *Play. With more than 20 years of experience in the toy industry, Ann took her love for community and a reverence for childhood and created well-designed space that inspires awe in children and adults. You can visit this community-minded shop at 5311 N Clark.
“I was so excited, I really felt like Andersonville was a good fit for us.” – Ann Kienzle
Listen to Episode 111 with Ann Kienzle!
Here are some references from Episode 111 that you may want to check out:
- Ann joins the interview today from her Logan Square shop, her first location. She also has locations in Lincoln Park, and now Andersonville!
- Ann was born in the suburbs of Chicago, but grew up in Wisconsin. She went to school out in LA and started in the toy industry in 1996 working for Brio, a wooden train company, in customer service. She’s worked her way around the industry as a manufacturer, toy representative, and finally a consultant when she moved back to Chicago 13 years ago. Read Ann’s *play origin story here. Or, check out all of the *play press!
- After a few years working as a consultant for toy stores in Chicago, she looked around Logan Square and decided it was time to embark on a toy store of her own.
- Ann had just taken ownership of the *play space in Andersonville before COVID hit. They opened February 29 and were open only five days before closing to renovate. Then, upon opening again, they were only open three days before COVID forced closures. She feels like they have their work cut out for them in reintroducing themselves to the Andersonville neighborhood, but she’s up for it.
- Fans and customers of Toys Et Cetera can expect several changes to the physical storefront at 5311 N Clark upon visiting for the first time. The carpet is gone, and Ann has installed the *play fixtures, white cabinets, and new lighting. They are also known for mixing in fun display items, like old doors as tables. She feels like 90% of the merchandise is the same, but the display is brighter and airier.
- The same Toys Et Cetera staff is in place at *play, as well as the free gift wrapping!
- During the first few weeks of COVID shutdown, Ann got creative and started putting together Easter Boxes which she posted on the *play Instagram account. She got so much positive reaction to the custom gift boxes, that she started personal shopping phone appointments with folks to put together Easter gift boxes.
- While *play does rely heavily on birthday parties in the original model, they are still seeing some neighborhood traffic for birthday parties that are family-based. While it’s slower, Ann is trying to stay smart to carry the shop through COVID to the other side. *play will still offer to create custom party favors too!
“Until there are birthday parties again, our business is just not going to be what it was.”
- Ann comments that the toy supply chain has really been affected by COVID, and while not super evident now, come the holidays, last minute orders from manufacturers won’t be possible. It’s more important than ever to shop now and shop early. Ann is trying to stock up on evergreen items now to be ready. She does comment that they’ve sold way more outdoor toys (scooters, bows and arrows, etc) this summer than ever before since folks aren’t vacationing.
- Manufacturers have also adapted, allowing for drop shipping to customers and working with their retailers on new models of service.
- Currently, *play is only able to allow 5 people physically in the store at a time at the Andersonville location.
- Ann launched a Summer Camp Kit series this summer in lieu of actual summer camps (since so many were canceled). She and her designer had so much fun coming up with four different Summer Camp Kits that customers purchased in advance to give Ann time to merchandise. The kits were designed to give parents a step-by-step kit with toys, workbooks, and more to give kids the Summer Camp experience. While not still available for purchase, you can view the kits complete with badges here: Summer 101, Rainy Day Brainy Play, Outdoor Explorer, and Experiment Academy
- Services that *play is offering right now includes free gift wrapping, curbside pickup, personal shopping via phone call, free delivery within the neighborhood, and shipping for a flat rate via USPS. The *play merchandise website should be live in the next few weeks – sometime this September. The website will allow customers to shop to ship or to shop for local pickup. View *play services.
- For the holidays, *play is working on shopping parties for family or friends to shop for a few hours together (capacity of 5 people in Andersonville). They are also working on gift holding options, so sneaky kids don’t discover the gifts at home too early.
- *play is currently open in Andersonville Tuesday – Sunday from 10AM-4PM in order to limit staff exposure. Ann is hopeful they’ll open 7 days a week again ideally in September, but they’ll have to assess the risk to keep their staff safe.
“It’s a fine balance of letting kids play on their own and when as the parent to step in.”
- The Andersonville community can support *play during this time by spreading the word that *Play is open! Talk to others about your experience, and share or comment on social media. Word of mouth is priceless right now. The Andersonville Chamber is still hopeful to do a socially-distanced ribbon cutting for *play once the front of the shop has been painted.
- If given the chance to trade places with an Andersonville business for a day, Ann would choose Lost Larson (5318 N Clark) across the street, as she’s in love with the decor: “It’s so perfectly done, I just want to soak it up.”
Follow *play on the following platforms: