It’s not quite Santa’s workshop in the North Pole.
But Dan and Kathy Viau’s The Toy Factory in New Glasgow, P.E.I., might be the next best thing.
After a brief break, the store is re-opening on Saturday and will be open every weekend up to Dec. 17 for the Christmas season.
Dan and Kathy have been making and selling toys at the shop for roughly 28 years.
It was started in 1972 by Al Shumate in Murray River. The Viaus bought the business in 1990 and operated it out of North Wiltshire for eight years until relocating to New Glasgow to be closer to tourist traffic.
“That’s the fun of it, really, for us is watching people come in and go ‘wow’ and the kids go ‘wow,’” said Dan Viau.
The store is stocked with toys from France, England, Germany and Denmark through an importer in Montreal. The toys include dollhouses and dolls, castles, pirate figurines, princesses, stuffed animals, games, fairies and novelty items, such as Loch Ness monster soup ladles.
Also for sale are the toys the Viaus make out of the workshop – animal crayon holders, trains, trucks and hot dog marionettes, to name a few.
Recently, the Viaus decided to make a risky business decision – to scale back on hours, inventory and available parking spaces. That has led to lower sales but also lower costs, which in turn have increased profits.
The Toy Factory made the changes to make the business more family friendly. Viau explained the store had become so crowded and “chaotic” that he didn’t feel comfortable bringing his own grandchildren. Now, there is more room for children to play and parents to shop and socialize.
The reduced parking space is the result of not allowing people to park on the grass anymore. That space is part of a playground. Viau has also cut a path in a small wooded area behind the business that is home to a fairy village.
The reduced hours from 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. allow the Viaus to enjoy the evenings but also allows families spend time doing other things.
“Yes, we’re a wonderful store. But we’re still a store. You shouldn’t be shopping. You should be walking on the beach or a nature trail. You should be having a campfire roasting marshmallows. If it’s raining, do a jigsaw puzzle. Make a family memory,” he said.
Despite the changes, Viau estimates that 80 per cent of Christmas sales are online through the store’s website.
In the workshop area, children can stand by a railing and watch toys being made. The power sanders and saws have been aligned to give kids a better view of the toy-making process. Children can also assemble their own wooden magic wands.
Viau’s favourite toy is the Block-o-Dile (designed by Shumate) – a set of wooden blocks held together by a string that resembles a crocodile. When pulled by another string, it rumbles, “wiggles and wobbles” forward on square wheels.
Viau is familiar to Islanders as a former CTV reporter on P.E.I. When CTV decided to close its P.E.I. bureau in 2014, Viau had the option to move to Moncton and continue working for the organization. Instead, he left television to devote his time to The Toy Factory.
Viau said making toys from scratch for children to enjoy on Christmas morning is a “heart warming” aspect of the job.
But he also admits he’s a bit of a kid himself when he’s working in the business.
“You have to be in touch with fun and play and wonder. Well, that’s why we do it, we think the world needs more of that.”