A real life toy story

Angellina's Toy Boutique has managed to become a mecca for anything kid-related in Whitehorse.

Angellina’s Toy Boutique has managed to become a mecca for anything kid-related in Whitehorse. Stacked to the ceiling with colourful toy classics such as Lego and Playmobil – including a few life-sized figurines – the store also boasts some unique products you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

Take the all-natural bamboo dollhouse, for example. Complete with solar-powered lights, it’s treated with beeswax and contains no chemical paints. At $500, there haven’t been too many sold, but its presence in the store goes to show how some residents are willing to pay top dollar for quality toys with an old fashioned, sustainable vibe.

There are also Babiators, stylish, unbreakable sunglasses for babies, and their aquatic counterparts, baby-sized swim goggles that come packaged inside a tiny submarine. Angellina’s also carries Kathe Krus, a German company that makes premium plush animals like owls and ducks, and is a brand you’d have a hard time finding anywhere else in North America.

It seems that the store’s owner, 37-year-old Betty Skoke Burns, has found a sizeable niche market in selling upscale goods for small children. While many downtown businesses are facing harsh economic winds, Angellina’s remains frequently filled with shoppers.

“In my store less is more,” says Skoke Burns. “You don’t need a million Barbies or 17 plastic toys. You might need three to four awesome, quality things.”

The seed for Angellina’s was planted while Skoke Burns was teaching and working on her masters in education. She was researching theories in learning, play and imagination. While doing this research, and also expecting her second child, she noticed quality toys were hard to come by in the Yukon.

Sensing an opportunity, Skoke Burns started a home business in 2006, set up as a veritable Santa’s workshop. There were Christmas trees in every room, and guests would walk through the house taking note of which items they would like to order. “My neighbours probably thought I was crazy,” says Skoke Burns. “I’d have my Christmas lights on and my trees and everything done in my house in October.”

After making the leap to a brick-and-mortar store in a small corner of Horwood’s Mall in 2009, Angellina’s moved into its present, prominent location four years after that.

Skoke Burns has known many of her customers for years. “We attract a lot of first-time moms and dads that are really excited to start their family and we become a very important part of that experience,” she says.

Some repeat customers become reeled in before their babies even arrive.

Most Whitehorse parents who frequent baby showers will be familiar with the ubiquitous ribbon-wrapped Angellina’s box. Expecting parents can register their showers with Angellina’s, which then allows friends and relatives, often from Outside, to purchase from the online store. When the shower rolls around, Aunt Jane from England will have her gift there wrapped and ready to open.

The online gift registry is also used for birthday parties, a natural step for parents to take if their baby shower has gone swimmingly.

Angellina’s also could be benefiting in a slight uptick in the number of babies being born in the Yukon. With an average of 400 births per year between 2009-13, that’s up from 360 between 2004-08. That means more potential customers.

Some items at the store are made in the Yukon. There are a number of handmade products from local artisans, like Fancy Yourself, a line of brightly coloured children’s clothes made from upcycled sweaters and (new) socks crafted by Emily Bradbury. There’s also the popular Quilty Pants, fleece lined pants and skirts for children up to four hand made by Whitehorse seamstress Georgi Pearson.

The location of Front and Main in the heart of downtown Whitehorse is an ideal location, says Skoke Burns. “I remember looking at the corner space and I said that’s my dream space,” she says. “That’s just where a toy store needs to be in this town.” Foot traffic from the Old Fire Hall, coming off the trolley right across the street, and finishing up a latte next door helps boost business.

“People are really community oriented and are really about local businesses,” says Skoke Burns. “They want a vibrant downtown community, and they are actively supporting those businesses.

“That’s the biggest advantage that I see when I go to different places and I meet different toy store owners.”

Contact Joel Krahn at

joel.krahn@yukon-news.com

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