by Madison V. Fisler
June 25, 2014. Thirty-four years ago, Asheville native Kathleen Rowell and her husband John moved to the Boone area for a fresh start, brought here by a mutual love for the Blue Ridge Parkway and in particular a little camping spot just down the road from where her business sits today.
The Incredible Toy Company first opened its doors 21 years ago in 1993, after owner Kathleen Rowell decided she had enough with driving down the mountain or poring over countless catalogues just to find a suitable interactive and innovative toy for her three growing sons. After 11 years in the area working for the Mast General Store, Rowell decided that a drastic change in careers was in order.
“I finally said ‘fine, I’m doing it!'” Rowell said, sitting on the front porch of the little red toy store between Boone and Blowing Rock.
“I prayed about it and I knew I could do it. We started in the building next door for the first two years, and two years later this building opened up. We had to do a little remodeling, but it was worth it. We closed the store one night at 6 p.m., loaded everything up into wagons and vans and opened up in this building the very next morning. It was a lot of fun.”
The Incredible Toy Company has been happily situated in its current location since the “big move” in 1995, and the colorful toy shop has carved out its own little niche within the High Country community.
“We didn’t loose too many customers in the move,” Rowell said with a laugh. “We were pretty easy to find!”
A walk through the expansive toy store reveals a shop that curiously appears much larger on the inside than it does on the outside. Just a short stroll through the aisles reveals timeless favorites like dolls, puzzles, art supplies and games; to the more contemporary delights like play food, dress up, Playmobil and a science section among countless other items for children of all ages.
“We specialize in everything,” Rowell said. “I have played almost every single game here, and we test our toys out to make sure kids will love them. We are really well know for all of our games. We have people who come to Boone once a year specifically to find their new game. Around Christmas we have families that come each year for a new family game to play together. We are always looking for new things to keep kids happy.”
While Kathleen and her modest staff take care of all of the day to day operations within the store, Rowell is not without help from her loving husband, John.
“My husband is my supporter, he does all of the carpentry and mainteance and the yard upkeep,” Rowell said. “He even goes with me to the toy shows every year to carry my catalogues.”
Kathleen and John met while attending North Carolina State University, where they both studied horticulture. They married soon after Kathleen graduated college. After moving to the Boone area and opening up the toy store, the sight of their own three children running around the store was a very familiar sight to customers. And though her kids are all grown now, Kathleen still hasn’t lost her love for giggly children.
“I love seeing the little kids running around,” Rowell said. “I have seen kids take their first steps here. I have watched at least one full generation grow up, so I get to see children of the kids who used to come in 21 years ago. I consider many of my customers old friends. We love to hold the babies and play with the kids, we just love them. I tease the pediatricians in town about how kids cry when they leave me, but they cry when they have to go and see them!”
Being in business 21 years, Rowell has learned a thing or two about toys and what children like.
“We are very unique and very helpful, and I am very proud of our reputation and our employees,” Rowell said. “We have people come in the door who don’t know what they are looking for, and we can always help them find the right thing. I have a lot of customers come back and tell me that the gifts they got here were the best gifts at Christmas.”
Even though running the only toy store in the area is a lot of hard work, Rowell finds a lot of enjoyment in what she does.
“I never dreamed I would be doing this, it was not a part of my game plan when I was in college,” Rowell said.
“I still love coming to work every single day. It is a laid back, happy atmosphere and I don’t feel stressed at all. After 21 years, I’ve learned the ebb and flow and it is comfortable. There is a lot to be said about being content with where you are. I have been asked by Lenoir and Bald Head Island to open another store there, but I don’t want another store. I am content with this one.”
And even after 21 years, the question that parents always ask their children when they leave the store is, “Are you ready to go?”
“In 21 years I have never heard a kid say yes,” Rowell said with a laugh. “That is a very silly question to ask a child in a toy store.”
The Incredible Toy Company is located at 3411 U.S. 321 in Blowing Rock. Operating hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information about The Incredible Toy Company, call 828-264-1422 or click here.
Photos by Ken Ketchie