What’s most telling about Necker’s Toyland, the local institution located on the Simsbury, Granby border since 1948, isn’t its extensive selection of toys, games and other instruments of play.
To be sure, the Hopmeadow fixture carries just about everything, from plastic models to Legos to paints to kites to dolls to puzzles to board games to Nerf guns to Pez dispensers to even remote-controlled flying Great White Sharks. You can even find something called “Yellow Snow,” which is exactly what you think it is.
No, what’s most revealing about the 2,600-square-foot store is what it doesn’t have in stock. Nary a video game - no XBoxes, Play Station 3s or Nintendo 3DS - can be found in the entire place.
“We don’t do electronic toys,” said owner Deb Necker, who has run the store since taking over for her parents in 1996. “We want kids to use their imaginations and build things and play board games.”
But doesn’t that hurt the bottom line, particularly around the holidays, when big-ticket items are normally purchased?
“Maybe it does, but there’s more important things to be stressed,” Necker said. “There’s enough electronic things out there.”
Instead, Necker takes her job as the enabler of play for generations of area residents seriously.
“It’s a huge responsibility,” she said. “It’s why we try to sell good, quality toys. For so many people, they come in here and say, ‘I got my first bike here, now I’m bringing my child or grandchild here.’”
It’s entirely true. On Friday afternoon, scores of people filed into the store to make their final purchases before Christmas. Many had browsed the aisles when they were children and were now shopping for their kids. When they spoke of Necker’s, they got a distant, wistful look in their eyes
“It’s the coolest toy store there has ever been,” said East Granby resident Karen Cunningham. “You’ll find stuff here that you won’t find anywhere else. All of the birthday gifts for all of our kids and their friends came from Necker’s.”
One gentleman interrupted an interview specifically to comment on the store.
“These guys are amazing,” said Dave, who only gave his first name. “When Beanie Babies were big, they cost twice the amount everywhere else. These guys sold them at the right amount. I’ve been coming here 20 years.”
Susan, who also only gave her first name, said that she had been shopping at the store for 41 years.
“My kids still talk about Necker’s,” she said. “They have great things, better things and very creative things, and the people are wonderful.”
It’s that kind of reverence that fuels Deb Necker.
“You’re making people happy all the time,” she said. “It feels like I’m Santa all the time, and not just around the holidays.”
That reverence also keeps Necker’s in business; big box stores may be able to beat Necker’s prices by a smidge, but they can’t beat the store’s variety and they certainly can’t top nostalgia.
“If I didn’t have good customers, I wouldn’t be here,” Necker said, adding that the store also offers something that chains don’t. “We offer personal contact with customers; when the phone rings, somebody actually answers it.”
That doesn’t mean that the store hasn’t joined the 21st Century. It has a website and a facebook page, though Necker said she doesn’t take orders over the Internet, at least not yet.
So the business continues to thrive. Interestingly, the store was one of the few that actually did excellent business during the recent power outages, as the demand for board games and puzzles skyrocketed.
“People said, ‘I can’t sit at home bored any more,’” Necker said.
Snow days are also good for business, according to Necker, because kids are always looking for new sleds and games to keep them preoccupied.
Whatever the day, people get to the point of nearly being offended when asked to contemplate the Farmington Valley without Necker’s.
“It’s part of what makes this area nice,” Susan said. “It would be like not having Cossitt Library.”
“You can’t beat this place,” said Granby resident Andrew Koczon, who grew up in Simsbury and Avon. “I’m doing my Christmas shopping here. It’s a no-brainer.”
Necker’s is open today until 5 p.m., but is closed on Christmas. If you are looking for electronic fart machines, Necker says they are all out.