This week marks 25 years since The Northern Toy Box opened up in Mile Zero.
Joe and Luella Judge started the NTB in November 1995 – growing it to a team, to a Dawson Creek institution. Board games, puzzles, books, telescopes and more – there is a purpose to the staff on the floor - and toys in the store.
There was a time when Dawson Creek didn’t have a toy store. Like Whoville without Christmas, Mile Zero had no local toys for sale.
Previous stores had closed and the Judges were prepping to attend a birthday party.
“We were going to a birthday party and we said, ‘you know what the town could use a toy store,” said Luella Judge.
Joe said it was a steep learning curve. Or steep race car track if you are keeping it to toys. The couple attended toy and gift fairs in 1995 to get a feel for the industry
“We were meeting wholesalers, placing orders, and learning to buy a few seasons ahead,” adds Joe. The store was originally located in the ReMax location downtown, before moving across the road to Happy Hobbit’s current location. The Judges then settled on its current location - the previous Zeller’s and Hudson’s Bay location.
“We jumped from small location to a large one – moving was a real community effort. We had a lot of people helping us out, and great staff, and we moved the store by hand,” says Joe.
Toys, learning games, education items, hobbies, fun and novelty items and more lined the shelves back then, and still do.
Metal Mind puzzles, Groovy Girls, 3D Puzzles were big for awhile,” says Luella. “Things that kids could play and learn from, as well as adults.”
Educational, activity and learning based toys is what new owners Andrew and Brigitte Ho have kept front and centre at the store.
The couple purchased the store from the Judges five years ago.
“Andrew and Brigitte said they were interested – and we weren’t really letting people know we were interested in selling at the time. They are community minded and it was great they wanted to take over – we created a transition plan over a year.”
Brigitte says the choice was a big one for the young couple.
“Owning a toy store is something we didn’t plan on - but we loved working with kids and families.”
Both sets of owners note they were slightly match-maked and put together.
Once they started talking community – a plan was struck to bring new owners up to speed – before the Judges handed the store’s gavel over to Brigitte and Andrew.
“One of the great things is that the staff stayed so long both at the Toy Box and Simple Pleasures – they are a big part of the success,” says Andrew.
Simple Pleasures provides home alternatives and more, right next door to the Northern Toy Box.
Original owner of Simple Pleasures Sandra Piper says the store started as a small craft show in a garage.
“After that we opened a location and started with a lot of Canadiana and artisans – woodwork and jewelry, then we began expanding as other niches and markets came along,” she says.
We had a lot of fun – a bridal show and downtown was a hoot back then. I remember working with husbands and wives on gifts for each other. The community was very supportive.
“We noticed right away, the strengths of combining the two stores, as Joe and Luella did when they purchased SP,” says Andrew.
“Over the years, the two businesses, side by side serve households so completely. We share customers, we share suppliers, keeping our sister store in mind when we buy.”
“I’ll see customers in the Toy Box and walk into Simple Pleasures and they’ll be confused. Funny how people don’t know how the stores are linked. – it’s pretty what? It’s funny,” Andrew adds.
Brigitte notes both she and Andrew were in the store as children, then as older kids, and as adults long before ever thinking they would own and run the shop one day. Before they knew it, Andrew and Brigitte found themselves spending all their free time researching toys, even attending an international toy conference on their Honeymoon in Hong Kong.
“Trying to bring in things that kids don’t see on TV. Always those multi generation activities that engage kids and young and keep adults interested too,” they say.
The Judges agree. Not competing with any box store – just offering options that were not the same.”
Worked out well for a quarter century thus far.