Store Name: Essence of Nonsense (ToyShow) Store Location: 1783 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul, Minnesota Store Owners: Barbara Anderson and Thomas Fletcher
The Essence of Nonsense boasts that it has 1,500 plush
bears in its inventory on most days. But this isn't a huge warehouse store
-- it's a modest independent toy shop in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Owners Barbara Anderson, a former elementary school teacher, and Tom
Fletcher, an artist, hand-select each bear they stock. "We try to
see if they have that come-hither face or a woebegone face," Anderson
says. Anderson and Fletcher also squeeze-test every bear to be sure each
is soft and cuddly.
Winnie The Pooh and Friends
Essence of Nonsense carries bears and other plush animals from top manufacturers
like Gund, Russ Berrie, Applause,
Degan, Manhattan Toy (ToyDirectory),
North American Bear and Ganz, a Canadian
company. They carry a full line of Muffy VanderBear and
her friends, complete with clothes and carrying cases. Among the store
favorites are Douglas Cuddle Toys (ToyDirectory)
and Jaag, which both make very realistic plush animals.
The Essence of Nonsense also seeks out handmade bears created by Minnesota
bear artists. "Many of them are one of a kind and have their own
personalities," Anderson says.
Toys and More
The store's customer base is a mix. The bear customers range from young
children to elderly people buying for grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"We have people buying presents for adults, too," Anderson adds.
"Bears provide such a sense of solace. They just nurture you. They
don't judge you. They are just there for you."
The Essence of Nonsense draws customers from small towns and cities in
Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, who find that the store offers
not only collectible plush animals, but also delightful books, whimsical
cards and toys without batteries or computer chips. The store is also
the largest glass marble retailer in five states. Customers know they
will find toys at Essence of Nonsense that they and their children can
interact with. "At Christmas time," Anderson says, "people
come in with a list of people to buy for, not a list of toys."
The Largest Retailer of Marbles in 5
The store has grown mainly through word of mouth and a small mailing
list. "It's a little tough to know where to advertise, since my philosophy
in the store is a little bit different than other people's," Anderson
says. The owners set what they feel to be reasonable prices, and "we
never, ever have sales," Anderson adds. "Most of the marketing
in America is based on discounting and sales. We are lucky enough to get
mentioned in publications in Minneapolis/St.Paul."
Customers also take business cards for friends and family. "They
save the cards for a very long time,” Anderson says. “They will come in
whenever they are in St. Paul. But most people come in because they are
in line at the grocery store, talking to someone about how they want a
really good bear or a marble, and someone says, 'Go to the Essence of
Nonsense.' Our customers are our best advertisement!"
Essence's Selection of Cards
Anderson and Fletcher close their store for most of January, while other
stores are taking returns and marking down merchandise. "This break
lets me think about what I am doing,” Anderson says. “Am I having fun?
Am I still able to do what I'm doing?" Then, at the end of January,
the doors of the Essence of Nonsense open once again, offering bears,
marbles, old-fashioned toys, and warm and funny books.
The Essence of Nonsense closed its doors in April 2010. See articles: