Erica and I have teamed up for a fun event on Saturday, Oct. 13. Read on to learn more, and keep scrolling for a Q&A with Erica!
When I was in preschool, my best friend had the coolest toys. Every time I played at her house, I made sure the butterfly finger puppets and her unicorn coloring book made an appearance. To me, they were so special and whimsical, and I didn't have anything like them (until I asked for the same finger puppets for my birthday).
So where did these toys come from? Imagination Station, located back then at Towers Shopping Center. When the store reopened in October 2015 in the Grandin Village, Erica Sipes took over and quickly became known as "The Toy Lady."
Today that same feeling of whimsy still lives in the store, which is located in a house-turned-shop on Grandin Road. From the fairy lights strung along the ceiling to the unique selection of carefully chosen toys, it's a cozy, magical place for all ages.
Recently, I've had the pleasure of getting to know Erica, and she and I have partnered up for a fun event happening at the store on Saturday, Oct. 13. The author and one of the illustrators (both Roanokers!) of the children's book "Thanks, You're Awesome!" will be at store. This beautifully written book teaches everyone about the importance of being a kind, positive person.
I will also be there helping parents get to know a little about my business and passing along my own random act of kindness :)
I see a lot of similarities in how Erica and I run our businesses. We love meeting families, learning about them in order to make the best recommendations, and we're both passionate about providing the most well-rounded, start-to-finish customer/client experience.
Now learn a little about Erica, Roanoke's very own Toy Lady!
Laura: What do you love most about being The Toy Lady?
Erica: People. I love being around people of all ages all the time and watching families interact in the store. I always thought I was an introvert, but working at Imagination Station has proven me wrong.
Laura: What's one thing people might not realize about running a toy shop?
Erica: How challenging it actually is to decide on what to buy for the store and to make it all happen. I think a lot of people assume we just go to one or two companies, place an order, and it arrives! But we actually order from at least 40 different companies at any given time, and each company works differently. It's a lot to keep track of, but of course, it's also a great challenge.
Laura: What kind of experience will customers get from Imagination Station that they can't get other places?
Erica: Early on, one of our customers remarked that we are a curated toy store. I love that, because that's what we strive to be. We know that a lot of our customers feel completely bewildered about what to buy for their grandchildren, relatives, or friends' children. Every day, we hear people say, "They already have so much!" and we understand that. We try to carry toys that you won't be able to buy at big-box stores, and we try to know as much as possible about every item that's on our shelves. We also offer a safe space for children and their families or caregivers to interact. I think a lot of families dread going out shopping to normal stores because of the chaos that can ensue, but folks quickly come to realize that we're not that type of store. Last but not least, we offer complimentary gift-wrapping. It's a very popular service of ours, especially during the holiday season and when someone is late to a birthday party.
Laura: What was your favorite toy as a child?
Erica: My mom had the most amazing dollhouse that she completely decorated with wallpaper in all the different rooms, furniture, little accessories ... I spent many, many hours playing with it and had fun choosing items to add to it through the years.
Laura: What's one thing most people don't know about you?
Erica: I think the cat's pretty much out of the bag now, but I consider myself first and foremost a professional pianist. I've been playing for 40 years and still love to perform and work with other musicians.
Laura: What's your favorite thing about the Grandin Village?
Erica: The wonderful combination of businesses right in the middle of residential neighborhoods. I couldn't have dreamed of a better situation! I love that middle-schoolers will stop by on their way home from school just to say hi and see what's new in the store. I love that families will come to story time in their ballet outfits right after ballet class down the street. I love being able to take a break from work to walk around the neighborhood. I also love being able to take care of most of my shopping in the Village. Clothes, books, food — it's all here.
Laura: Who inspires you?
Erica: I probably wouldn't have said this a year ago, but I just saw the documentary about Mr. Rogers (at the Grandin Theatre, of course!), so right now he is who inspires me. Especially now that I'm a toy lady, I love to see if I can find the spark in each of our customers — the spark that makes each person unique and special. Even if a kid is a bit of a tornado in the store, and I feel a little harried after he or she leaves, I'm inspired to see the amazing potential and energy that the child has. Mr. Rogers also reminded me of the value of silence. In a toy store, believe it or not, there is room for that silence. Yes, children can be loud and crazy, but a lot of the time, when they are fully immersed in the world of imagination, it's pretty amazing how silent they can be. It's a beautiful place, and I can't help but smile when I spot it.
Laura: What does a typical day off look like for you?
Erica: I'm a musician, mom, and a wife in addition to being a toy lady, so I don't typically have a day off. But when I do, I can often be found playing the piano for my own enjoyment, reading a book, putting together a puzzle, or chatting with my friends on Twitter.
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Laura Richards is a family, newborn and maternity photographer serving the Roanoke Valley. She specializes in authentic, feel-good photographer that tells "the story of you" for decades. Learn all about what makes her different from other photographers here.
Welcome to the blog! I'm Laura, and I specialize in authentic, natural-light photography and heirloom print art. I'm currently based in Roanoke, Virginia, but soon Charlottesville! Hope you'll explore my little online home and reach out if you have any questions!