HJ/EDJuly 10, 2006

Store combines teaching and toys

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Ever spent an hour wandering around a store for a child’s birthday present, only to find out that he or she already the “perfect present?”

Jodi Gilyard, a native of Winsted, knows that feeling, which is why she recently opened the Gumdrop Tree on First Avenue, about a block or two from Buffalo Lake in Buffalo.

The Gumdrop Tree is a unique store that sells educational toys, candy, jewelry, collectibles, and more.

But what is really special about the store is the fact that almost none of the items it carries are available in the mass market.

“We pride ourselves on specialties,” Gilyard said.

Gilyard has never worked in retail before, but after seeing a Gumdrop Tree, she decided to start her own, as part of the franchise.

The Gumdrop Tree carries sun catchers, puppets, kites, brain teasers, and a host of other activities to keep infants to 14-year-olds busy.

Gilyard, daughter of Paul and Bonnie Quast of Winsted, moved to Buffalo about 15 years ago, and saw the need for the area to have a store like this.

“I looked at it as something parents would want for their kids,” Gilyard said. “The closest educational- based toy store is in the cities.”

The store is user-friendly, set up for children to walk right in and start playing with a toy train, life-size toy alligators, or Wedgits.

Wedgits are hollow blocks that come in different sizes and colors, and serve as an example of toys that are more than toys.

“Children can learn hand-eye coordination, colors, and shapes from them,” Gilyard said.

As a mother of two, Gilyard knows how important it is for children to have toys that stimulate their mind, and that’s why she felt she needed to open the store.

Her own children, Brennan, 11, and Nicolas, 5, enjoy playing with the new toys as they come into the store.

“It’s nice to know that they are getting something out of their toys,” Gilyard said.

Gilyard also makes the store convenient for the busy parents, who can pick out a gift when it’s down to crunch time.

“You can walk in here half an hour before a birthday party, pick out a gift, and we’ll gift-bag it for free,” Gilyard said.

Parents might also enjoy some of the featured old-fashioned candy. If that doesn’t satisfy their sweet tooth, Gilyard is hoping to offer a specialty ice cream in the shop this summer.

As a mother, wife, and full-time worker in accounting at a company in Monticello, the store is something she is doing for the parents in the area, and so far, it is going well.

“What gives me satisfaction is that the people in the community have been very receptive,” Gilyard said. “I’ve had a lot of repeat customers.”

To keep things interesting for her customers, Gilyard and the store’s three employees are planning specials during area events such as Crazy Days and the craft fair in Buffalo, and also manned a booth for their store at Winstock in Winsted this June.

The Gumdrop Tree is open Mondays through Wednesdays noon to 6 p.m., Thursdays through Fridays 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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