FENWICK ISLAND – The neighborhood toy store located at the beach.
That’s what owners Sandy and Lori Smyth dub Tidepool Toys and Games, a specialty toy store with three locations on the coast in southern Delaware.
In the spring of 2011, Sandy and Lori opened Tidepool Toys and Games on the boardwalk in Bethany Beach, where they spent three years building their business before opening a second location in Fenwick Island.
“It was definitely a learning process because none of us had ever been in retail,” Sandy said. “Once we started figuring things out and learning from our sales reps, we found that we really liked it.”
Lori – who spent seven years raising their two children – said it was time spent researching toys and games for her own kids that inspired her to open a toy store when she returned to the workforce.
“I would always read the reviews and try to find the best toys and games for my own kids, so when we decided to open a store that’s what I drew from,” she said. “I wanted to share the toys I had found and loved the best with the customers.”
Lori noted many of the toys and games that made it to the shelves at Tidepool Toys and Games were kid-approved, as many of the products were tested by the couple’s two children.
“We had our kids involved from the beginning,” she said. “When they were younger they would help us test the toys and pick them out.”
Today, Tidepool Toys and Games is a member of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) and features nearly 4,000 active products in its stores.
“We try and sell quality toys that have real value and aren’t just gimmicks,” Sandy said.
The owners said customers can find Melissa and Doug toys, Lego products, crafts, Ravensburger puzzles, stuffed animals and puppets, board games, kites, beach toys, books, science activities and much more.
“A lot of our items have an educational slant too,” Lori said, “so you get play value where they are fun but kids are also learning from them.”
The couple also noted some popular items found at Tidepool Toys and Games, including Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, Mad Mattr, Aurora Mermaid dolls and Surfer Dudes, to name a few.
“We have something here for all ages,” Lori said.
Despite the recent closure of major toy retailers and the growing trend toward online shopping, Sandy said business remains strong at Tidepool Toys and Games.
“Although people are going online to buy things, I think we have a niche,” he said, “especially in a touristy area where people want to shop.”
The owners said customers who visit Tidepool Toys and Games can find toy displays, demo areas and activities for children of all ages. This summer, for example, the store’s Bethany Beach location will offer a free story time on Fridays at 2 p.m., while Barn Hill Preserve will return to the Fenwick Island location with its kangaroo and other live animals on Thursdays from 1-3 p.m.
Lori said programs and activities offered at Tidepool Toys and Games are examples of ways the business tries to support the community. In addition to a Good Scholar program that earns children discounts for each A on their report card or for any improved letter grade, the local retail store also hosts an annual Neighborhood Toy Store Day – sponsored by ASTRA – that features entertainment, giveaways and donations to Toys for Tots.
“It’s our biggest event of the year,” she said. “We want to give back to the community that supports us.”
Now entering their eighth year of owning and operating Tidepool Toys and Games, Sandy and Lori said they have no plans of stopping.
“A lot of people are surprised when they come to the beach and find a full-service toy store,” Sandy said. “I think that’s a pleasant surprise to many people.”
Tidepool Toys and Games is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 100 Coastal Highway in Fenwick Island and at 98 Garfield Parkway, Suite 104, in Bethany Beach.
“We are a year-round store,” Sandy said.
The owners noted that a seasonal store is also open during business hours within Viking Golf and Thunder Lagoon Water Park in Fenwick Island and that free parking and gift wrapping are available at the Fenwick Island location on Coastal Highway. For more information, visit www.tidepooltoys.com or the store’s Facebook page, or call 302-539-TOYS (8697).