Toy store emphasizes playing and learning

Kathy Chmielewski, owner of It’s Your Turn toy store, poses for a picture with fellow boutique and business owners that rent space in her shop.  - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Kathy Chmielewski, owner of It’s Your Turn toy store, poses for a picture with fellow boutique and business owners that rent space in her shop.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

For Oak Harbor resident Kathy Chmielewski, toys and family should go together like peanut butter and jelly.

They should be educational and get kids away from the TV. They should also be fun and engaging. But, most importantly, they should be designed to bring parents and children together and emphasize values like sharing.

And in her new store, It’s Your Turn, they do.

The 28-year-old Navy wife recently opened what appears to be the city’s only dedicated toy store. Foregoing mainstream toys like Nerf guns, video games and Barbie dolls, she has instead narrowed her inventory to products from Melissa & Doug, a toy line with a focus on learning. She also carries baby and children’s boutique clothing.

So far, the store has proved exceptionally successful.

“By the second day, I had my rent paid,” Chmielewski said.

“We really didn’t expect it to take off the way it did,” she said.

In fact, the month of December was so busy that she is already planning a move to a larger storefront this month. Chmielewski has her eye on a location downtown on SE Pioneer Way.

But the shop’s success isn’t just tied to her toy and clothing inventory; the mother of four has developed a clever business model that is impressing city business leaders. Similar to the cooperative effort of some art galleries, in which multiple artists band together to pay the bills, Chmielewski is renting space to multiple local boutiques and businesses.

“It’s a great idea,” said Jill Johnson Pfeiffer, director for the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

Not only does it supplement the store with a more diverse inventory of products that are locally made, but it also allows vendors to come and go without any major impacts to the store, she said.

That advantage may be particularly true in this case because the businesses are owned by Navy wives. So far they include Michelle Webster with Curly Girly Boutique, Emily Hadsall with Emalee’s Boutique and Erin Nowak with Sweet Sparrow Photography.

Each offers their own special product line: Webster creates outfits such as tutus and fairy wings, Hadsall makes hair bows and custom pillow case dresses, and Nowak is a professional photographer who shoots everything from newborns and family portraits to wedding photography.

Webster, who has been selling her wares at community markets and events, said it’s been a huge boon to her business to have a dedicated location or home base of operations.

“This has probably been our best Christmas yet,” she said.

Chmielewski’s husband is a flight engineer with VQ-1, a P-3 squadron at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. She knows what it’s like to be left at home with the kids. Without a job, it can be pretty boring and this provides an outlet to be constructive, she said.

Teaming up has inadvertently created a network among Navy moms who didn’t know each other before and has also given them an edge in being successful, which can be difficult in today’s tough times.

“In this economy, moms need every chance they can get,” Chmielewski said.

It’s Your Turn is located at Trader’s Village, often referred to as the log cabin building, on Midway Boulevard. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


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