At Clayton’s new toy shop, fooling around with the merchandise isn’t just welcomed—it’s heartily encouraged. And you may just get roped into play by the owners themselves.
“There’s a kind of warning that we’re gonna throw things and shoot things and play the games with you in the store,” LagoonaMagoo Toys owner Shawnta’ Ray said. “You might get your foot run over with a scooter, but that’s how we like it.”
Ray says she regards customers as guests in her second home, and wants the toy-buying experience to be positive for both children and their parents. With products stacked to the ceiling, the hands-on approach takes some of the anxiety out of selecting the “right” purchase from a sea of bright, shiny things. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It seems contradictory in an environment with so many fun things to put your hands on that you’re not allowed to,” Ray said.
Unlike many toy sellers still in business, video game and the newest character dolls aren't part of LagoonaMagoo's bread and butter. They prefer more physical toys—some test the limits of imagination, other are more scientific in nature—but all are fun. Ray doesn’t like to be pigeonholed as an “educational” store; she prefers “well-rounded toy store.”
“I feel like all toys have some sort of educational value, except maybe fake dog poop,” Ray said. “If you’re engaging a child with a project or building a thing, or [using] a puppet for that matter—they’re using their minds, figuring out how to play with that toy, and that’s educational.”
Her husband, co-owner Rick Harmon, points out a rocket with a launcher that you stomp on. While it would never be stocked in an educational section, he rattles off the physics lessons associated with play—acceleration, gravity, ballistics.
The couple moved the store from the St. Louis Mills Mall to downtown Clayton last October. 2012 was a busy year for the family. Ray gave birth to their second child. The couple closed two stores and opened another two—including the one in Clayton.
The former Brilliant Antiques storefront fell into their laps this summer, Harmon said. It just happened to have the right mix of nearby residences and business, plus access to I-70.
The move to Clayton allows them to better control hours of business and customer thefts, which happened frequently in the mall setting, Ray said.
The smaller space also forced the couple to pare down their merchandise, which Ray said helped them "really focus on the newest and most exciting stuff."
"We service birth to adult. I thought it was going to be difficult to make sure we had enough product to support all the ages and all that we really are, but I think we're going to be able to do that."
They take comfort in knowing they can have additional products delivered from their Edwardsville store, which is four times larger.
The Clayton community has been extremely inviting, Ray said. The store is enjoying foot traffic from the city’s Farmer’s Market, as well as restaurant and salon clientele. It's not uncommon to see a woman with foil on her hair perusing the shelves.
“The main difference between a store in a mall and a store like this, when you’re seated in a store like this you’re on a first name basis. They want to know you and I want to know them, which is how we like to do business,” Ray said.
The couple is in the midst of closing down their Fairview Heights store. Ray said she would sometimes visit all three stores in a single day. They’re still working to sell off the final merchandise and fixtures.
Once business is finished in Fairview Heights, Ray said she’d like to focus on coordinating more game nights with area schools, work with local libraries, and introduce the store to organizations around Clayton.
The couple believes it’s been a successful move so far.
“We have great staff, I think is part of it. The Edwardsville staff has been with us a long time. The fact that we work together helps us sort of balance our kids and everything, but it’s a work in progress,” Ray said. “I don’t think we’ve figured it out entirely…. But we are working it out.”