by Tim Collins
Source: Island Parent BIZ
Originally Published: Island Parent BIZ
History is replete with examples of good things emerging from the love of a parent or grandparent. Kool and Child, Vancouver Island’s largest specialty toy and teaching supply store is an example of the phenomenon, and for the thousands of children who visit the store every year, it’s a legacy of love that endures.
It all started when Louise and Kees Kool immigrated to Canada from Holland in 1965. In search of toys for their grandchildren, they found the quality of toys available in Canada to be disappointing. No matter how hard they searched, they were unable to find the sort of sturdy toys they remembered from their homeland—toys that spurred the imagination and withstood the sometimes vigorous love of a child.
They decided to do something about it, and their passion for providing children with quality toys and educational materials was the beginning of what would become a school catalogue supply house (Louis Kool & Son Ltd) and, many years later, a retail outlet for toys, games, puzzles, and educational supplies.
“We’ve never strayed very far from the original concern of my grandparents: a belief that toys should be of high quality and have lasting, sustainable play value for children,” said Carolyn Kool, granddaughter of Louise and Kees and the current owner of Kool and Child in Nanaimo. The 6,400-square-foot shop offers more than 16,000 different items, all of them of a quality and character she’s certain would meet the approval of her grandparents.
For Carolyn, it’s all about fun. Although she trained as an accountant, her love for the toy business has never wavered.
“I grew up in this business, and my experience and knowledge about the business really came from playing with the toys my grandparents and parents provided. I still play with the toys as they come into the shop,” she said. “When that delivery arrives at the back door it’s always a great day for me and my staff. We dive into those boxes like kids…I guess we really are all kids at heart.”
She describes a recent occasion when one of her long-time staff couldn’t resist bouncing around the shop on a pogo stick.
“In that moment, she was a kid again,” laughed Carolyn.
In fact, the child-like appreciation of the toys, puzzles, games and teaching materials in the shop is a hallmark of Kool and Child. Carolyn has carefully selected her staff with that characteristic in mind and now employs a collection of former early child care educators, teachers, and others—all with a background of caring for children.
Take Jen Vater, for example. She came on board at Kool and Child after more than a decade of homeschooling her daughter.
“I was in here so often that the staff knew me. Over the years I’d developed a very sound knowledge of educational toys, and a real appreciation of the quality and variety of the items available in this store. Most of all, it was such fun looking at all the unique and fantastic toys and educational materials Carolyn and her team brought in. There was always something new,” said Jen.
“But now, for me, I think the best part about working here is watching people’s eyes light up when they come into the store for the first time…especially the children. That never gets old,” she said.
Two other features of the store’s philosophy set it apart from other, more mainstream, toy stores.
The first is the dearth of licensed products. Carolyn and her staff try to avoid the latest movie craze and the corporate merchandising that inevitably follows. Those products, said Carolyn, tend to have limited play value, and the love affair with the movie characters fades as the next feature film is released, leaving the last set of toys to be cast aside.
The second feature is the unplugged nature of the toys at Kool and Kids. According to Jen, it was one of the things that drew her back to the shop.
“We live in a world where kids spend far too much time glued to screens. We have screen-free toys; toys I call unplugged play. The best images, after all, are created in a child’s imagination.”
For more information and reviews of Vancouver Island’s largest specialty toy store, visit facebook.com/koolandchild.
Tim Collins is a writer and freelance journalist living and working in Victoria.
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