Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Toy story

West Kildonan couple opens neighbourhood shop that specializes in old-fashioned, imagination-stirring playthings

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Let's begin with a story from Christmas Past.

Vince Gatti and Twyla Motkaluk are the owners of the Newbridge Toy Shop. Ten years ago, the married couple took their children, Mack and Serena, to the mall to visit Santa Claus. The kids told Saint Nick what they wanted for Christmas then posed for a picture alongside the jolly old elf.

To mark the occasion, Gatti and Motkaluk purchased a personalized coffee mug with a photo of Mack, Serena and Santa imprinted upon it.

Later, when Gatti was admiring his new keepsake, he noticed something odd. He called his wife over, showed her the picture and said, "I don't think these are our kids."

Ho, ho, huh?

"It was a boy and a girl and it looked just like them, only not quite," Motkaluk says. "We totally should have kept that mug."

-- -- --

Last January, Motkaluk and Gatti were tossing around ideas for a small business after Motkaluk's original plan -- "save the world" -- didn't quite pan out. (Motkaluk ran as a Liberal in the 2011 provincial election but lost to the NDP's Melanie Wight.)

"We were trying to come up with something serious and important-sounding, because we wanted to be grown-ups," Motkaluk says. "But every thought we had, the notion of a small section reserved for toys would creep in. Finally we said, 'Maybe what we really want is a toy store.'"

The couple lives in West Kildonan and one of their goals was to set up shop close to home.

"This part of town has changed so much...," Motkaluk says. "When we moved here, most of our neighbours were in their 80s. But now it's just parents and kids, kids, kids; it's become a huge stroller-walking area that deserves trendy coffee shops and cute little stores, too."

After being underwhelmed by site after site, Motkaluk and Gatti visited a building at 1791 Main St. that used to house a combination grocer and sign company. They took possession on July 1. With the help of family and friends, they spent the first week chucking out two tonnes of garbage and another 14 days working their way down to the original oak flooring, which had been covered with four layers of assorted tiles, plywood and carpeting. (Gatti says that one of the layers of plywood had 65 screws per sheet, all of them stripped.)

Finally, after a thorough cleaning and a fresh coat of paint, Newbridge Toy Shop -- the name is a play on the nearby Kildonan Settlers' Bridge, which a lot of people in the area still refer to as the "new bridge" -- was ready to welcome its first customers. Well, almost.

"We didn't even have a sign for the first 10 days and the front door was just this big, nasty, steel entrance," Motkaluk says.

That didn't prevent one segment of the population from sniffing them out, she says.

"I swear, little kids have a sixth sense when it comes to toys. I would see these four- and five-year-olds walking by with their parents and they'd stop right in front, as if they automatically knew there was something good inside."

The Newbridge Toy Shop specializes in old-fashioned playthings that stir the imagination, like puppets and train sets.

"My daughter is a big doll lover and she explained to me one time that if you have a doll that does something when you press its tummy or hand, then you're limited to what games you and your doll can play," Motkaluk says. "But if you have a doll that doesn't do anything special like talk or cry, then your options are endless."

Natasha Holmes grew up a few blocks away from where the Newbridge Toy Shop now stands. The mother of three dropped in after finding about the store on Facebook.

"I love spending my money locally to help small businesses," says the mother of three. "Our oldest girl, Jayde, is almost 10 and is really into science -- especially chemistry and physics. Our son is four and into cars. Our youngest girl is five months old and really likes the puppets, stuffed animals and puzzles."

Holmes says that despite Jayde's age, she can already tell the difference between an independently run store and the big-box variety.

"She appreciates that the service is very personalized and that (Twyla) treats her like a valued customer, and not just some kid."

The Newbridge Toy Shop is open seven days a week.

Toy story, part two

"I'd like to thank everyone who voted for me. I'd also like to thank the tree I came from."

Since 1998, 51 toys have been voted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y.

Most of the displays honour perennial favourites like Monopoly and Hot Wheels cars. But the museum also makes room for the simple things in life, like 2003 inductee "alphabet blocks," 2009 inductee "the ball" and 2008 inductee "the stick."

Would Twyla Motkaluk, the owner of the Newbridge Toy Shop, ever consider stocking a few sticks in her store, alongside her menagerie of puppets, science kits and puzzles?

"The trouble with giving something like a stick as a gift is that is so hard to wrap and can be somewhat unimpressive at first glance," she says, pointing out that her store does carry a few Hall of Famers, including marbles and jacks.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2012 E3

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