There probably couldn’t be a better greeting for customers who step inside Happy Alpaca Toys & Supply in Jacksonville than a life size toy version of the animal itself, complete with real alpaca fiber.
The store’s owner, Amy Kranenburg, who cares for eight alpacas on her farm, praised the animals for their unique traits, including a resting face that to her resembles a “sweet smile.”
“There are a lot of reasons to tie it to a toy store — they’re beautiful; they’re soft,” Kranenburg said. “I love to think that in an independent toy store, especially, you’re going to walk in and see something that you haven’t seen at another shop.”
Happy Alpaca Toys & Supply, located at 180 W. California St., Jacksonville, opened a little more than a month ago, following six months of renovations to overhaul the former Scheffel’s Toys & More, owned by Bill and Linda Graham before they sold it.
“They were very happy that we were going to continue a toy store,” said Kranenburg, a retired lawyer who co-owns Happy Alpaca with her brother, who lives in Miami.
With so many toys found primarily online or in the back of big-box stores, Kranenburg noted, the local toy store seems to be a dying institution.
“In fact, after we bought this building, as a family, we discussed what to do,” she said. “This is such an iconic building. What’s the best use of this real estate? We all felt really passionate about saving the toy store, because it’s important for the community.”
On Thursday, Kranenburg answered customer questions, rang up purchases and fluffed a few toy alpacas to make sure they were looking their best.
Although the life size and miniature alpacas that pepper the store are not for sale, there is much to choose from: puzzles, miniature kitchen sets, books, backpacks, even a keyboard that can roll out onto the floor — along with some major brand names, such as Playmobil.
The way Kranenburg sees it, what makes Happy Alpaca Toys & Supply is the fact that the toys are not technologically based, aside from the keyboard.
“Most of our toys require children and adults to share imagination and skills to create the experience,” said Kranenburg, noting that she has bought a lot of toys in her lifetime because she has three boys, ranging in age from 19 to 9.
She said it’s “humbling” to watch children arrive and see “kids’ faces light up when they walk in.”
“It’s a joyful place,” Kranenburg said.
Folks who took delight in the store Thursday included some students from Medford School District’s 2022 Summer Experience, as well as young adults and older parents.
Carson Wisdon, 17, was among the customers who trickled into the store Thursday. The visit was a brief stopover with a group of friends traveling north from Southern California to Washington.
“The ... store has been here as long as I can remember,” said Wisdon, who has childhood memories of Scheffel’s, since his mom is from Oregon. “(Scheffel’s) was fun, but honestly, I like the theme of this store a lot better. (The alpacas) are something you see, and it just grabs you and tells you to come in.”
Mother and daughter pair Shannan and Katherine Lozano were just looking around inside Happy Alpaca Thursday.
“I’m really surprised at how there’s things for all ages, from children to adults,” Shannan, Katherine’s mother, said. “I think that’s a really cool thing. I’m having fun.”
Shannan said she knew Happy Alpaca was opening, but had not been in until this week.
“I love it,” Katherine said. “It’s really a cute store — a lot of things to touch and feel,” she said.
Kranenburg said she plans to add a line of kids clothing to the store in 2023.
“There’s been such a wonderful response from the community because this building has been known for so long as your corner toy store,” Kranenburg said. “It’s up to us to continue to deliver.”
Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.