The idea for Mollybee Toys began to germinate about seven years ago, following a well-timed trip to Europe.
“I was pregnant, and my husband returned from a trip to Germany and brought home Haba building blocks, which my kids, now age 5 and 6, play with to this day,” said owner Melissa Rhen.
The couple admired the quality of the beech wood blocks and the creative purpose behind the design. Soon, Rhen’s husband Dave began toying with the idea of purchasing more products with an educational component.
“He sent me an email about three months after my daughter Ella was born which said, ‘Let’s start a toy store,’” Rhen said.
She was game, and the couple decided to throw the dice by opening up an online shop. They named it Mollybee as a tribute to Rhen’s sister, Molly.
As time passed, the couple contemplated expanding into a physical location. At the same time, Rhen’s friend, Rebecca Werley, who was also a stay-at-home mom, was weighing the idea of starting a business of her own. So, the two worked as a team to strike the right balance between business and family life.
Each opened a shop in the same Market Street building in Camp Hill, where Werley runs Sweet 504, an interior design space adjacent to Mollybee Toys.
“We cover for each other when there are doctor’s appointments or field trips, things like that. It works out well,” said Rhen, adding that her children Ella and Landon, now school-aged, help out too. “They have jobs here too like helping me stock the shelves.”
Rhen’s store may be cozy, but there’s something to see at every turn.
There are the European-style educational toys that inspired the shop, such as sturdy wooden puzzles and early learning items. She added to that a range of gift and baby shower items like adorable “onesies” that feature magnetic buttons and colorful “chew bead” necklaces and bracelets designed to be worn by mom and tugged on by little hands.
For older kids, the shop carries many “analog” items, though you won’t find your typical board games like Candyland and Sorry. Rhen opts instead for more unusual merchandise like The Peaceable Kingdom series, which enables children to play against the game rather than each other. She discovers such finds by attending industry events in New York on a regular basis.
She also carries an award-winning series of products called Nancy B’s Science Club, kits designed to spark young girls’ interest in STEM learning, and Elenco Snap Circuits, which teach children about the world of electronics.
Janean Searfoorce, who is a regular MollyBee shopper, said she can always count on finding a good gift there.
“Because it is small, she has to be particular about what she has there, and they are all high-quality items that I can feel confident won’t be duplicated,” she said.
Alexis Schrock of Marysville, who has a 5-month-old and a 3-year-old, said she brings both children to the store.
“I can let them pick out anything, and I know it’s going to be a good toy that’s a mix of education and fun,” she said. “You can tell that every toy has some thought behind it, even the board games.”
When asked to describe the favorite part of her unique business, Rhen doesn’t think twice.
“It’s when the children run into the store and look around and realize that they are allowed to touch everything,” she said.
She added that it’s fun to see how many kids play with the same toy, like the LEGO Light Stax, which have a tiny LED bulb inside each toy brick.
“About five times a day, this is built into a different configuration,” she said.
Rhen said she’s looking forward to celebrating “Neighborhood Toy Store Day” on Nov. 11, when independent retailers across the nation will hold events in their stores.
“We’ll have giveaways and make-your-own Christmas ornaments and other activities,” she said.
Working in a toy store does have its perks, and you can tell Rhen is in her happy place, with children and smiles all around.
Mollybee Toys is located at 1849 Market St. (rear), Camp Hill. For more information, visit www.mollybeekids.com or their Facebook page.