Black Friday, dark by name, bright by shopping enthusiast nature, takes place next week. It’s another American phenomenon to land on our European shores that we are only too happy to lap up, take part in and adopt into our lust for commercialism psyche.
It used to be an online thing. Now, it’s an everywhere thing, with shops putting their window displays and heaving Christmas shelves into ‘Black Friday Madness’ too.
I will probably take part. We’re due a baby in a few weeks and like all good second time parents – not a thing have we bought or prepared. Be grand. I’m sure I’ll click online and buy a €2 off babyrgro or seven.
There’s one shop that’s been on my mind though. A real shop. A shop that I know won’t be taking part in Black Friday, nor will it have a stack of pre-prepared screaming ezines landing in inboxes on Black Friday eve.
It’s a toy shop called Duffy’s Toyworld in a small village in Dunleer, Co Louth. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. There used to be another one in Drogheda – our much larger town but it closed down years ago and has been replaced by Smyth’s – the mega giant store that we have all spent time in, either with our own children or standing there scratching our chins, as we survey ceiling high shelves of packaged plastic for our nephews / nieces / any child will do upcoming birthday / Christmas / relevant occasion.
I like Smyth’s. We’ve spent a lot of money there over the years. Their baby accessories are really good value, their hours are good and convenient in the run up to Christmas and I’ve found them really helpful in any of my dealings I’ve had – the girl on the tills in Drogheda is always ready for the chats – and last year, when a toy we wanted was missing a part they helped us order another online.
So, Smyth’s is great. But…they’re also massive. I’m receiving about three emails off them a week at the moment about Lego discounts and Bratz dolls on sale, all blue and yellow and screamy. They’re probably in Black Friday meltdown at the moment, servers at the ready to send another slew of marketing hit you over headery to anyone who ever dared click on their website.
And that’s grand. But I can’t help thinking about little old Duffy’s Toyworld.
I work part-time which gives me some precious hours to spend with my two year old
terrorist toddler. Some days we’ll go and do things outside the house (quality time style) other times, we’ll stay at home and crash in front of the TV while I might attempt a bit of housework or moving things around from one place to another (tidying up I believe it’s called).
A few weeks ago, the shop popped into my head and I decided we’d go down for the drive and a little visit as something to do. I can’t ever remember being in the shop before. I wasn’t even sure if it was still there. “Is that still open?” asked my hubby when I told him where we going. Yes, I affirmed. “I think so.”
There’s not much parking outside, but we managed to pull up in front of someone’s house (sorry residents) and make our way into inside. If you are planning on going you might be better parking up the street a bit.
The first thing that greeted us was this enormous Santa’s Chair. It reminded me of Arnott’s years ago. I dutifully plopped the unsmiling child into it and took a photo.
The second thing that greeted up was a man who looked like Santa Claus.
“Hello!” he boomed, as we peered cautiously around a toy-filled corner. What was this – a welcome? A real person inviting us into the shop?
“Hello,” I responded, my eyes drawn to an enormous Sylvanian Families house twirling around in a glass cabinet. Below it sat a stack of catalogues. Sylvanian Family catalogues. I hadn’t seen such books of wonder since the early 90s – I’d been given one precious copy which I’d hung onto coverless and dog-eared for years – I’m pretty sure it’s still in my attic. I’d learned all the character names – you could show me a family even today and I’d be able to tell you what the children were called. Byron Underwood. (Badger Family) Misty Waters (Beaver, Orphan, came free with Persil washing powder, 1989). Maxwell Bramble (Hedgehog family, came with tiny brush to keep furry needles in check).
My pulse started to quicken. I was a child again. This was so exciting!
The shop was dark and windowless. Crowded shelves peered down at us, musical instruments lay at our feet.
Mr. Santa Claus was speaking to my daughter, engaging with her, his eyes lighting up. This was a good sign. A toy shop owner who liked kids. Could he be the real thing?
Seeing my too long gaze at the Sylvanian Family cabinet / brochure stand, he brought me down through the shop. “Here’s our collection,” he waved. “I believe it’s the biggest in Ireland.”
Wow. I think I said it out loud. I can’t be sure. I was in a Sylvanian Family trance. Here, in front of me, were items I’d only ever seen in pictures. Furniture sets. Random families. More miniscule accessories than you could shake an ornate stick at. Why couldn’t I be aged nine again instead of thirty bloody three? “Oh adults still collect,” he told me.
Hmmm, I thought, trying to manoeuvre the two year old over to take a look and away from the one foot high piano she was hammering on. I believe in living through your kids. If only I could get her interested.
It’s hard to describe how the shop made me feel if you haven’t lived through the 80s and 90s. If all you’ve ever know is Smyth’s and clean floors and wide shelves and everything boxed and plastic. This is the opposite to that.
It was messy. Untidy. A faint hint of must in the air. But an Aladdin’s Cave. A real toy shop. Somewhere you could spend hours in – so we literally did.
Toyshops that see hundreds of customers through the door have to be practically built, easy to clean, accessible. Here, we could poke around, explore, knock things over and not feel too bad about it.
After a while I noticed the theme of the toys. Wooden. Traditional. Packaged yes, but no major commercialised brands – TV programme related. Often I find with those toys, they’re more packaging than substance – the actual toy itself is shit. “We’re about discovery,” Mr Santa Claus told me. “About learning through play.” Music to an organic parent’s ears. Which reminded me, the child was still hammering on the shin high piano. I had lost myself among the wooden train sets and puzzles.
We made our way upstairs, counting the steps as we went. Here, were the tractors (or if you’re around these parts ‘trah-hers’). Despite my toddler’s penchant for boy toys, these didn’t hold much interest for her, but she nearly peed herself when she spotted a large play kitchen. Its doors were hanging off and it was pretty battered.
“Is this the only one you have in stock?” I asked the bearded man.
“Oh no,” he said. “We have 34 different types in stock.”
“Right,” says I. “I missed them.”
So back we went downstairs. Sure enough, high up on shelves were a variety of play kitchens and utensils. A kitchen catalogue was thrust into my hands – I couldn’t take it home, but it gave an idea of the types of kitchens that could be ordered in.
The absolute joy of it all.
We picked out a small train to buy and a sticker book – August is mad into these at the moment and we usually get them for a few euro in bargain shops. I’ve noticed though that the better ones can be found in book shops and the one we picked up here had 250 stickers in it, but all reusable. (Not fake reusable, these can actually be washed).
Santa Claus gave me his card as we made our purchases.
His name was Tony.
And as we made our way out of the toy darkness and into the light, we watched him hug his grandson who had come into the shop with his mother – a beaming smile on his face.
A proper family business.
Getting ready for the busy Christmas season.
And that’s what’s been on my mind all week. Black Friday and tiny tucked away shops. The internet swooping up our paypal accounts and three digit security numbers. A shop that stayed open late one Christmas eve for a friend of ours who was making a mad dash from the airport from a delayed flight. This was the shop. Tony was the man who delayed getting home to his own family that year to serve just one customer in need.
Doesn’t that deserve a bit more of our business? A divert away from the chain store, all we know, bargain madness?
I think so. Because it’s about the shopping experience too.
And we really enjoyed our little trip to Dunleer.
And now I’m wondering about the honky tonk teeny tiny piano.
No, be strong. Santa Claus can’t bring everything on the list you know.
You can like Duffy’s Toyworld’s Facebook page. This is not a sponsored or review post, but we had such a lovely time there that I wanted to write about it, and I believe in supporting local businesses. If you haven’t been to Dunleer before, you’ll find it just off the M1 between Drogheda and Dundalk. It’s a lovely village and we had yummy pastries in a cafe (that I can’t remember the name 0f) beside Pat’s Gift Shop. (Do you think Tourism Ireland would give me a job?)
If you enjoyed this post you might like this piece called Four Ways your Christmas Toys Affect The Rest of Your Life