A Place For Fun

La Grange, Ky., family brings unique
toy store concept to Madison, Ind.

McWhiggins Wonder Emporium is a store like no other

(October 2019) – Ellie Troutman and her daughter, Tayler Rinehart, have always been avid toy collectors. Troutman grew up in Chicago and still has fond memories of visits to the iconic FAO Schwarz toy store. She couldn’t afford those toys but knew the thrill of window shopping and dreaming of “someday.”
That someday arrived about seven years ago when she bought The Treasured Child toy store in La Grange Ky. The store featured all of the wonder of a child’s first Christmas in a 2,000-square-foot store, she said. Over the past seven years, those dreams continued to grow, but the physical space of the store didn’t have enough room for that growth.

Photo by Sharyn Whitman

Mother-daughter team of (from left) Ellie Troutman and Tayler Rinehart pose with a Halloween display at their new store.

Recently, the happy intersection of opportunity and need brought Troutman to Madison, Ind. Troutman was looking for the opportunity to expand, and the Madison Main Street Program had identified the need for a toy store to fill the void left by the closing of Rock-a-Bye Lady.
“We were able to demonstrate the strong retail climate and collaboration that exists in Madison,” said Main Street Board President Valecia Crisafulli. “Tourism, the city, the Arts Alliance and others all conveyed the sense of working together.”
Troutman purchased the 220 W. Main St. building last spring. At 8,000 square feet, the building was a dream come true for her. It not only had room for more toys but also the space to have sections of different types of toys. After working behind closed doors for weeks, Trout-man, 50, and Rinehart, 26, on Sept. 13 welcomed the first shoppers to their grand opening of McWhiggin’s Wonder Emporium. The showroom was stuffed with toys, and more are coming every day.
Collectors will find high quality items like Steiff bears from Germany or a $500 dog, while children can find a plush dog for less than $10. Each section offers a full range of price points. There is something for everyone. Just walking around and taking in all of the toys brings a smile. Carnival favorites like skee ball and a merry-go-round only cost 25 cents.
Anyone can come in with a few quarters for their children to have a good time. There are trinket toys less than $1. The vision was a family-oriented, multi-generational atmosphere – a place anyone can visit to see and touch each toy. The experience is designed to “bring back memories and create new memories,” Troutman explained. 
McWhiggin is the last name of Al, from Al’s toy barn, in the second “Toy Story” movie. “Wonder Emporium” comes from another Dustin Hoffman film, called “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.”
“All of the toys are kid-powered. They are not electronic toys or video games,” Troutman said.
She still remembers her daughter’s obsession with baby dolls. As a result, she explained, “We have a huge selection of baby dolls. We have every skin color and hair type a child could want. Whatever we do, we want to do it very well.”
Another popular section features Breyer horses. Misty of Chincoteague is the longest running Breyer model ever produced.  
The Earth and Science section offers lighted globes, dinosaurs, microscopes, telescopes, metal detectors, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission items, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) toys. Another important section includes educational toys for individuals with learning challenges. These toys are designed to provide sensory stimulation. Continuing around the store, there are Barbies, superheroes, trains, planes and k’nex. A spaceship carrying a fuzzy teddy bear is suspended from the ceiling. A seven-foot-tall giraffe towers over other plush animals. 
Anyone can buy a toy online, but it is not an exciting experience. The drive home, after a visit to McWhiggin’s Wonder Emporium, will be full of lively conversation. That high energy conversation won’t happen while watching a child open a brown box dropped off at the front door. The experience is not just for kids; every grown-up is still a kid at heart. In addition to toys, there are funny office gifts, such as crazy socks and gag gifts.
The goal is to be a destination, not just another store. “We have to draw customers. The longer people stay on Main Street, the better it is for all of the stores and restaurants,” Troutman said. “Return shoppers are even more important. Since a store is open longer, it is a place for someone to stop in while they are waiting for someone.  Recently a customer stopped in with a child. They had a few minutes to look around while waiting for an older sister to finish dance lessons.”
Special events are planned regularly. September’s event was Batman’s Birthday Celebration. The November event is “Your Neighborhood Toy Store.” The nationwide “shop small, shop local” event will feature special giveaways. The December feature will be the annual “Toys for Tots” event in honor of Troutman’s sister, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Troutman said she been energized by the enthusiastic welcome she has received in Madison. The recent Batman’s Birthday Celebration brought collaboration with the nearby “Buy, Sell, Trade” store, which featured free comic books to celebrate the special day.

Troutman said she sees more natural opportunities for Main Street collaboration. “Everyone here is working together, rather than competitive,” she said with a smile.

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