The Toy Shoppe in Richmond, Va., in 1975, he and his wife, Barrie, have paired hundreds, perhaps thousands, of collectors with the highest quality dolls and teddy bears. The Shapiros are matchmakers, relationship experts. Above and beyond anything else, they are partners.
“Danny and I are such a unique team,” shares Barrie, who met Danny in the shopping center where the original Toy Shoppe was located (the store has since relocated to a business park). “It works. There’s no conflict between the two of us. We fill in where the other one doesn’t like to be.” While Barrie generally focuses on the artistic side of things, Danny deals more with business matters. Both enjoy working closely with collectors and artists.
“We love what we do. I couldn’t imagine life without The Toy Shoppe. I love the people we’re involved with,” Danny says.
“I think we both have this feeling with the shop that we’re so proud of what we represent and for what we’re able to do for the artists,” Barrie adds.
Their efforts on behalf of the designers do not go unnoticed. Doll artist Berdine Creedy, of Berdine Creedy Originals in Gainesville, Fla., remembers admiring The Toy Shoppe’s magazine advertisements when she came to the United States from South Africa in 1996. “I always thought what a privilege it would be if they asked me one day to sell my dolls in their shop,” she says. “But I waited and waited patiently for a few years. When it was my 10-year anniversary I met them in my booth at IDEX, and they ordered some dolls and also asked for a shop exclusive. My heart was pounding that year, and I knew I had made it!”
When selecting pieces to offer through The Toy Shoppe, Danny says he looks at the quality of design, artisanship and material used. “It starts with design,” he explains. “How does this feel? How does this look? There are a lot of things that are going through your mind. ... Is it something that’s just a copy rather than really original?”
Finding unique pieces for their customers is something the Shapiros pride themselves on. They often work with artists and manufacturers to design limited-edition shop exclusives that are second to none.
R. John Wright’s “The Little Prince,” inspired by the character from the book of the same name by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was the first exclusive piece made for The Toy Shoppe. “John had come to us in the early ’80s and asked if I’d like to have something done specifically for The Toy Shoppe,” Danny recalls. “I’ve read [that book] dozens of times. It was a classic that really touched me emotionally. I thought John could bring the character to life.”
The Shapiros were not disappointed—nor were the many collectors who added the striking doll to their collections. Since then, R. John Wright and his creative partner and wife, Susan, have created several more sought-after shop exclusives for The Toy Shoppe, as have a number of other companies and artists—Lynne and Michael Roche, Elisabeth Pongratz, Alexander Doll Co. and Tonner Doll Co., to name a few.
Building a Dream
“I consider The Toy Shoppe an art gallery,” says Wanda Miller, a doll and bear collector who lives in Richmond, about 20 minutes from The Toy Shoppe. “While it has dolls and bears from many different price ranges, the gallery is extraordinary. Exquisite dolls are displayed in vignettes that are incredible. Barrie and Danny are so gracious in answering questions and providing explanations about the various dolls, bears and artists to new visitors to the gallery. Many new collectors are born following a visit to the gallery.”
Danny understands the emotional pull toys, particularly bears and dolls, can have on children and children-at-heart. He recalls going to FAO Schwarz in the 1950s and “your eyes popping because you saw so many fabulous things. That’s how retailing can inspire. Good stores can be inspirational for children and adults, too.”
A native of Richmond, Danny got started in the toy business when he began working with his father, a mainstream toy wholesaler, after college. But Danny says his real love was for the imported and specialty toys from Europe. He has long been attracted to toys of the past. In college at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., he began as a business major. “I hated it,” he says. “I then went back to my love: history. It could explain some of my love of older objects. I definitely have an affinity for antique toys and antique dolls. All of these makers whose work we love to sell … are very much connected to the past.”
In the beginning especially, The Toy Shoppe specialized in all kinds of toys, particularly wooden ones. But the emphasis was always on dolls, teddy bears and stuffed animals. “Remember, most of the toys that are made are functional, inanimate objects, but a doll and a teddy bear have a direct connection to human emotion and animal instinct,” Danny notes. “So there’s that deep connection to your past. That’s what I think is so special about dolls and teddy bears. And they are really difficult to create as compared to many other types of toys.”
Barrie shares Danny’s affection for toys of the past. “I have always had a fascination and a love of toys. I’ve always loved finely crafted things,” Barrie says. “I like the open-endedness especially that the articulated dolls allow you, creating your own stories and using your imagination. The dolls I’m really drawn to allow that. Dolls that can be posed are the first ones that appeal to me. It’s the magical mix of emotion, warmth and humor. Some the materials used are reminiscent of another time.”
“Barrie and Danny are warm individuals who are really interested in promoting the art of doll and bear collecting. We share the same philosophy in that we consider our dolls and bears to be works of art,” says Miller, a Toy Shoppe customer since the early 1980s. “We appreciate the use of expression, color, texture and proportion in our dolls as you would a beautiful painting. I have learned so much from them over the years and look forward to our conversations. They develop an interest in the individual and their collection. They share their knowledge and offer suggestions that enhance a collection. It is not unusual for them to pick up a phone and chat about a new artist or piece from a favorite artist that they think the collector will appreciate.”
When Miller’s beloved schnauzer, Winston, passed away, her sister gave Barrie and Danny a call to purchase a soft-sculpture schnauzer in remembrance of her pet—but the Shapiros had an original idea. “They suggested that a wonderful memory could be created by having an oil-painted canvas of a favorite picture incorporated into a fabulous bear. They worked with the artist and my family to create this treasure that captures the spirit of my Winston,” Miller says of the Oz Matilda bear the Shapiros helped her sister to have made for her. Her sweet schnauzer is memorialized in a painting on the bear’s belly.
Creating lasting memories—and lasting friendships—is what the doll and bear business is all about for the Shapiros and their staff of 16 dedicated employees. “The real fun is still finding the beautiful object and then being able to show it to someone who would love it,” Danny says.
Derie Trujillo, a dentist, says her relationship with the Shapiros began when she was looking for a few dolls with teeth. “It certainly turned into much more,” says the collector from Westminster, Colo. The first doll with a toothy grin that caught her eye was Zwergnase’s 2002 “Annemore.” “I called The Toy Shoppe for the first time ever and spoke with Danny,” she recalls. “He was so nice and took the time to fill me in on the Zwergnase dolls and also sent me more literature on dolls he felt I might like. There was no pressure to buy anything; he just wanted to guide me in a fun and positive direction. I had not been collecting until that time, and the rest is history.”
Trujillo says she has “always had the utmost respect for Danny and Barrie. They are both very nice people, and I truly believe they enjoy what they do, as it shows in the enthusiasm in their voices and the fact that they take the time to learn what a collector really wants. They are teachers of collecting. I have learned so much about my beautiful dolls from them. I think it is great that they are so familiar with so many artists; it makes me feel comfortable buying an artist doll from them, as I feel they are guiding me in the direction I want my collection to go.”
Collector Mary Helmers of Saratoga, Calif., agrees with Trujillo. “Barrie and Danny are extremely friendly and very knowledgeable in the collectible market,” she says. “Their honesty allows me to know that what they tell me is extremely reliable. I can’t say that about 99 percent of the people I’ve dealt with in this world.”
The Business of Friendship
Annette Himstedt, also a German doll artist, treasures the special bond she has developed with the Shapiros, too. “Over the years our relationship has turned from an extremely good business relationship between Barrie, Danny and myself into a great friendship, which I wouldn’t want to do without,” she says. “They both have an unbelievable sense of humor, which has often proved to be a great source of comfort. Something that is outstanding about both Barrie and Danny is the fact that with all the fun we’ve had together, the business … never got neglected.”
Barrie, in particular, is quick to share stories of special moments with artists and collectors. “Every day when I come into work and I have something new waiting for me, whether it’s on the computer from an artist with something new or a box I’ve come back to the warehouse with, I feel like it’s my birthday,” Barrie says. “I can honestly say I feel like I make new friends every day.”
She fondly remembers one collector who never fails to make her “job” even more rewarding. “When she comes into the store and you put the doll in her hand and she sees these dolls, you light up because she lights up,” Barrie shares. “It’s like that sense of discovery by collectors of something new. It’s magically transformed doll collections into serious art collections and, often, into emotional collections.”
It is a true labor of love as the Shapiros and their equally enthusiastic staff share their passion with one another as well as with collectors and artists worldwide. “I feel … these last 30 years I’m looking at this patchwork quilt of magical moments spent with all these artists,” Danny says.
“I know what we’ve done in our own hearts and in our own home here at the shop and how happy we’ve made collectors,” Barrie adds. “And I know what we’ve done for the market. I’m really, really fortunate in that we both believe that anything that you do, you do well.”
Danny and Barrie are humbled by the recognition. “I feel very honored and I feel very proud because we are being acknowledged for running our business well, and I’m so proud of Danny for what he created and love that we worked as a team,” Barrie notes.
“I think one of the greatest opportunities is having this great relationship with my partner, who is my husband,” she continues. “We love to eat; we love wine. Friday night is still our romantic night, and we can still close down the restaurant. Work is not tedious. … It’s just a really good part of my life. I could not even imagine it any other way.”
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The winners of the 2013 Industry’s Choice DOLLS Awards of Excellence (DAEs) were announced April 12 at the Debut of Dolls Banquet held at IDEX in Orlando, Fla. Each entry in this year’s competition was evaluated by our panel of judges: Doll industry consultant Pat Burns, doll writer and historian Penny Herbst, Simon Farnworth of DollObservers.com, author and DOLLS contributor Stephanie Finnegan,
DOLLS editor-at-large Jill Jackson, and Modern Doll President Patsy Moyer. This year’s Industry’s Choice winners go on to become the nominees for the Public’s Choice awards voted on by DOLLS readers. Look for photos of all the nominees, ballot, and online voting instructions in the July 2013 issue of DOLLS.
Iola, Wis. – Jan. 9, 2013 – DOLLS magazine publisher and former editor Carie Ferg received a special VIP Award for Outstanding Achievement in the 2012 Colliii Awards. The Colliii Awards are the largest online dollmaking competition in the world.
“We wanted to present the 2012 VIP Award to Carie Ferg as a recognition of the dynamism and innovation she has brought to the doll industry over the past few years,” said Colliii Awards Director James Carlsson. “The VIP Award is presented every year to a person or organisation that has made a significant contribution to the doll world. It was Colliii.com’s pleasure to present this to Carie as a token of appreciation for her hard work.”
Past VIP Award winners include DOLLS’ Editor-at-Large Jill Jackson for her work with "Doll Reader," the Biemann family from Schildkröt dolls in Germany, and such atists as Stephanie Sullivan.Registration for the 2013 Colliii Awards will begin in July. For more information about the competition, go to www.colliii.com/en.
The winners of the 2012 ProSculpt Annual Sculpting Contest have been chosen by collectors and artists from around the world. Winners this year are from England, Italy, Japan, South America, and the United States. Photos of all the winners can be viewed at the Johnston Original Art Dolls website. The winners are:
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Haute Doll introduces its new exclusive by Horsman Ltd., the modern-style “Heart Chair” perfect for 16-inch fashion dolls. The design was inspired by Verner Panton’s 1959 full-scale contemporary chair design.
The fourth Pullip and Dal Doll Lovers Event (PUDDLE) drew 60 doll lovers from 10 different states and Canada to the Elk Grove Village Holiday Inn in June. This year’s theme, cranes, was inspired by the sandhill cranes at the group's charity organization, the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Six custom dolls and other items donated by sponsors like The Sleeping Elf and Denise's Dolls were raffled off at the event, raising $500 for the center.
The weekend started Friday night with dinner at Mitsuwa Japanese Mall in Arlington Heights, followed by a tea party at the hotel. PUDDLE officially kicked off at 9 a.m. Saturday, starting with an organized buy-sell-trade opportunity, and dozens of fans milled around trading and buying doll wigs, eye chips, bodies, clothing, and more.
Every attendee received a door prize, thanks to generous donations from many sponsors. Distribution of the door prizes was followed by a secret gift swap and lunch break. Afterwards, an informal Q&A-format customizing workshop answered questions for many fans new to the hobby, followed by a display of fully customized and modified dolls entered in the customization contest. Winners of an online photo/art contest which was held and judged before the event were announced along with the customization contest winners. The photo and art entries can be seen at www.puddlestyle.com/photoart.html.
Many fans continued the fun over dinner in the hotel restaurant and in the hotel lobby until the wee hours. Krista Farmer, who traveled from Toronto for the event, said “It was a crazy cool day.” Although the event officially ended Saturday night, 11 fans stayed for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Willowbrook Wildlife Center Sunday. — Jane EasterlyFor information on PUDDLE 2012, visit www.puddlestyle.com.read more
Attendees at the third annual R. John Wright Convention enjoyed the festivities of several major holidays coupled with outstanding dolls, all rolled into four fun-filled days! R. John and Susan Wright chose “Celebrations!” as the theme for their 2011 event held at the historic Desmond Hotel in Albany, N.Y., which was co-chaired by Loretta Nardone and Lillian Wright.
The convention opened with St. Patrick’s Day reception Wednesday evening, where everyone laid claim to being a wee bit Irish while enjoying a scrumptious dessert buffet. The sales room opened immediately after this kick-off event, with conventioneers hoping the “luck of the Irish” would help them find that perfect doll or dolls.
Thursday began early with the Easter Morning Breakfast; those attending this ticketed event didn’t have to search for large, beautifully decorated baskets serving as table centerpieces. They were filled with molded felt eggs in pastel colors. At the end of the breakfast, the eggs were distributed and the happy new owners opened them to find “Peep,” a 3-inch yellow mohair chick as their event souvenir. His companion, “Posey,” was available for sale. After breakfast the special and competitive exhibits opened, along with the helper room. This year’s special exhibit, arranged by John and Susan Wright’s daughter Emily, was titled “Happy Holidays” and showcased R. John Wright dolls and animal characters and the traditional holidays that inspired them.
That afternoon, attendees boarded buses for the short trip to Bennington, Vt., for a tour of the R. John Wright facility along with other local activities. The Wrights explained the development of their creations from concept through completion before everyone had the opportunity to visit with their employees as they made various doll parts and accessories and shopped in the R. John Wright store. The day culminated with a Fourth of July BBQ followed by fireworks at dusk.
Workshops by dollmaker Gail Wilson and a program by Alan Pate, a leading American expert on Japanese dolls, were offered on Friday, along with several roundtable discussions on various topics. Attendees dressed up for the frightfully fabulous costume parade leading into the Halloween Masquerade luncheon, with prizes awarded in five categories. After lunch, the newest piece from R. John Wright’s Wizard of Oz collection, “Wicked Witch of the West,” made her debut in front of an enthusiastic audience.
The ticketed Victorian Yuletide Dinner featured traditional table decorations and an enchanting program, “A Victorian Christmas,” presented by Nardone. The event souvenir was the 10-inch “Mary Frances,” the latest addition to the Victorian Children Collection. Available for purchase was her 7-inch little sister, “Baby Grace.”
Saturday morning’s activities included another program by Pate and a workshop conducted by Emily Wright. That afternoon, a Valentine’s Day High Tea charmed conventioneers with fine teas and delicacies. The newest addition to the Flower Fairies series, “Rose Fairy,” was available for purchase. The evening’s closing event was a New Year’s Eve Gala Celebration. This elegant banquet featured another entertaining program produced and presented by Nardone. When the souvenir dolls were distributed, delighted attendees found the adorable 12½-inch “Celebration Scootles” would be going home with them. As an added bonus, her delightful twin brother was available for purchase.As the convention ended, attendees were already making plans for next year’s “Around the World” event, which will be held at the same location June 20-23, 2012 and will celebrate the magic of children around the globe. There will also be an added treat as the first bear event held at an R. John Wright convention will be incorporated into the excursion to the Wrights’ facility in Vermont. For more information, visit www.rjohnwright.com or call (802) 447-7072. — Pat Burnsread more