|Written by Trina Laube|
|Wednesday, 01 October 2008 00:00|
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.
âDanny and I are such a unique team,â 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). âIt works. Thereâs no conflict between the two of us. We fill in where the other one doesnât like to be.â While Barrie generally focuses on the artistic side of things, Danny deals more with business matters. Both enjoy working closely with collectors and artists.
âWe love what we do. I couldnât imagine life without The Toy Shoppe. I love the people weâre involved with,â Danny says.
âI think we both have this feeling with the shop that weâre so proud of what we represent and for what weâre able to do for the artists,â 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 Shoppeâs magazine advertisements when she came to the United States from South Africa in 1996. âI always thought what a privilege it would be if they asked me one day to sell my dolls in their shop,â she says. âBut 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!â
When selecting pieces to offer through The Toy Shoppe, Danny says he looks at the quality of design, artisanship and material used. âIt starts with design,â he explains. âHow does this feel? How does this look? There are a lot of things that are going through your mind. ... Is it something thatâs just a copy rather than really original?â
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 Wrightâs âThe Little Prince,â inspired by the character from the book of the same name by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, was the first exclusive piece made for The Toy Shoppe. âJohn had come to us in the early â80s and asked if Iâd like to have something done specifically for The Toy Shoppe,â Danny recalls. âIâve read [that book] dozens of times. It was a classic that really touched me emotionally. I thought John could bring the character to life.â
The Shapiros were not disappointedânor 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 artistsâLynne and Michael Roche, Elisabeth Pongratz, Alexander Doll Co. and Tonner Doll Co., to name a few.
Building a Dream
âI consider The Toy Shoppe an art gallery,â says Wanda Miller, a doll and bear collector who lives in Richmond, about 20 minutes from The Toy Shoppe. âWhile 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.â
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 âyour eyes popping because you saw so many fabulous things. Thatâs how retailing can inspire. Good stores can be inspirational for children and adults, too.â
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. âI hated it,â he says. âI 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 âŠ are very much connected to the past.â
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. âRemember, 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,â Danny notes. âSo thereâs that deep connection to your past. Thatâs 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.â
Barrie shares Dannyâs affection for toys of the past. âI have always had a fascination and a love of toys. Iâve always loved finely crafted things,â Barrie says. âI like the open-endedness especially that the articulated dolls allow you, creating your own stories and using your imagination. The dolls Iâm really drawn to allow that. Dolls that can be posed are the first ones that appeal to me. Itâs the magical mix of emotion, warmth and humor. Some the materials used are reminiscent of another time.â
âBarrie 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,â says Miller, a Toy Shoppe customer since the early 1980s. âWe 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.â
When Millerâs beloved schnauzer, Winston, passed away, her sister gave Barrie and Danny a call to purchase a soft-sculpture schnauzer in remembrance of her petâbut the Shapiros had an original idea. âThey 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,â 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 bearâs belly.
Creating lasting memoriesâand lasting friendshipsâis what the doll and bear business is all about for the Shapiros and their staff of 16 dedicated employees. âThe real fun is still finding the beautiful object and then being able to show it to someone who would love it,â Danny says.
Derie Trujillo, a dentist, says her relationship with the Shapiros began when she was looking for a few dolls with teeth. âIt certainly turned into much more,â says the collector from Westminster, Colo. The first doll with a toothy grin that caught her eye was Zwergnaseâs 2002 âAnnemore.â âI called The Toy Shoppe for the first time ever and spoke with Danny,â she recalls. âHe 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.â
Trujillo says she has âalways 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.â
Collector Mary Helmers of Saratoga, Calif., agrees with Trujillo. âBarrie and Danny are extremely friendly and very knowledgeable in the collectible market,â she says. âTheir honesty allows me to know that what they tell me is extremely reliable. I canât say that about 99 percent of the people Iâve dealt with in this world.â
The Business of Friendship
Annette Himstedt, also a German doll artist, treasures the special bond she has developed with the Shapiros, too.Â âOver the years our relationship has turned from an extremely good business relationship between Barrie, Danny and myself into a great friendship, which I wouldnât want to do without,â she says. âThey 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 weâve had together, the business âŠ never got neglected.â
Barrie, in particular, is quick to share stories of special moments with artists and collectors.Â âEvery day when I come into work and I have something new waiting for me, whether itâs on the computer from an artist with something new or a box Iâve come back to the warehouse with, I feel like itâs my birthday,â Barrie says. âI can honestly say I feel like I make new friends every day.â
She fondly remembers one collector who never fails to make her âjobâ even more rewarding. âWhen 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,â Barrie shares. âItâs like that sense of discovery by collectors of something new. Itâs magically transformed doll collections into serÂious art collections and, often, into emotional collections.â
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. âI feel âŠ these last 30 years Iâm looking at this patchwork quilt of magical moments spent with all these artists,â Danny says.
âI know what weâve done in our own hearts and in our own home here at the shop and how happy weâve made collectors,â Barrie adds. âAnd I know what weâve done for the market. Iâm really, really fortunate in that we both believe that anything that you do, you do well.â
Danny and Barrie are humbled by the recognition. âI feel very honored and I feel very proud because we are being acknowledged for running our business well, and Iâm so proud of Danny for what he created and love that we worked as a team,â Barrie notes.
âI think one of the greatest opportunities is having this great relationship with my partner, who is my husband,â she continues. âWe 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. âŠ Itâs just a really good part of my life. I could not even imagine it any other way.â
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