Teaching Toys & Books


By Matt Nagle



Melissa Tennille (pictured here) and Valla Wagner are co-owners of Teaching Toys & Books, and have been so successful that they opened Teaching Toys, Too in Gig Harbor.

It is no secret that parents today have a lot on their plates when it comes to raising their children. The modern world is constantly moving-moving-moving, and the amount of information being thrown at us all the time is enough to send anyone into serious overload. All the while, our precious wee ones are quite aware of what we’re doing with our cell phones, iPads and computers, with studies showing that too much screen time can change children’s brain structure, leading to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

This is why Teaching Toys & Books is an oasis in a world of technological excess. Located in Proctor District at 2624 N. Proctor St. for nearly 40 years, this charming shop continues to delight young and old alike. Since 1981, Teaching Toys & Books has been providing quality toys that support the emotional, physical and intellectual growth of children – and lighting up the imaginations of young-at-heart grown-ups too in the process. Teaching Toys & Books is for everyone, no matter your age, but children are the guests of honor as they well should be.

“It’s a hard sell for us if something involves a screen,” said Melissa Tennille, who co-owns the store with business partner Valla Wagner. “We feel that kids get that without being encouraged. It’s already a part of their life so we help them branch out and do something different.”

Tennille and Wagner purchased the already established toy store from its previous owner when they were still working there as employees.

“When the opportunity came, we jumped on it,” Tennille said. The two turned out to be such a success that they opened Teaching Toys, Too in Gig Harbor 10 years ago this month (4635 Point Fosdick Rd. N.W. / (253) 514-6113).

At both locations, Teaching Toys & Books is packed with thousands of products, all cleverly displayed along wide aisles that offer plenty of room to move around – and to give little ones plenty of space to explore.

With their trained eyes for quality products, Tennille and Wagner work directly with toy companies to bring new items into the store. Just a couple weeks ago, Tennille was away at the American International Toy Fair in New York where she perused almost half a million square feet of the sales floor showroom. She goes to this one every February and another one every June, visiting Seattle showrooms twice a year in between.

“I look for companies that are totally invested in their product,” Tennille said, “people who are enthusiastic about something that they make and put a lot of thought into.” And, she keeps watch for unique toys that customers won’t find at Target or big box stores.

Training for Tennille, Wagner and their employees comes straight from company representatives, as product knowledge is important at Teaching Toys & Books. Sometimes there are small differences between products that customers need to know about. For example, Tennille said that a recent customer was looking for a train set for her child and wanted to know the difference between the ones that Teaching Toys has in stock.

Train sets are a big seller at Teaching Toys & Books, especially the Brio brand, which has been in business for more than 100 years. “We sell more of these trains than anywhere in the Pacific Northwest,” Tennille said, explaining that Brio wooden train sets include the imaginative play aspect, the puzzle aspect to link the tracks together in various configurations, and they’re sturdy, too – sure to last through multiple children in families.

Playmobil is another popular product. “They think of everything,” as Tennille put it. For example, the school play set doesn’t come with just desks and chairs – it includes chalk for the chalkboard, a little bicycle rack, and all kinds of fun details.

Books are a big deal at Teaching Toys & Books. This includes classics like the “Little House on the Prairie,” “Anne of Green Gables,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” in addition to newer classics as well like “Harry Potter” and “Percy Jackson.”

“Almost half of what we sell are books – fiction and non-fiction, picture books galore, and board books for toddlers,” Tennille said. “We enjoy offering titles by local best selling authors, too, like Tom Llewellyn and Marissa Meyers.”

Customer Stephanie Hatch has been a loyal customer for about 27 years. “They always have toys out for kids to play with and there is no pressure to buy,” she said, noting that the store is welcoming for those who want to just come in and browse to get ideas of what to come back and buy for birthdays and Christmas. “Proctor is growing so much and this is a store that I’ve been worried about so I always try and support them as much as I can.”

Teaching Toys & Books celebrates their local community and joins hundreds of independent toy stores across the nation in hosting a Neighborhood Toy Store Day celebration each November. Participants receive a free toy for every child and enjoy entertainers, cotton candy, and more. “One year we made ice cream with liquid nitrogen and that was a good time,” Tennille recalled. This day doubles as a benefit for local organizations that do good things for children. Last year’s beneficiary was the Communities in Schools Ready Set Read Program.

The store also holds special sales events, with the next one coming up at the last weekend of this month – 20 percent off everything in the store March 30-31.

Teaching Toys & Books’ great selection, free gift-wrapping and customer appreciation punch cards are just some of the reasons why the store has been named “the best toy store in the galaxy” and “Best of the South Sound” in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 by South Sound Magazine.

Learn more at www.TeachingToysAndBooks.com or call (253) 759-9835. The store is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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