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Toys with a Conscience

Marvin’s is a store for all ages seeking toys and games with a small environmental footprint and a huge fun factor.

Marvins’ Toy Store in Downtown Crystal Lake is feeling particulalry confident in its niche business on the heels of a wildly successful inagural holiday retail season.

“We went through 1,000 feet of wrapping paper and 1,500 yards of ribbon,” explained owner Lori McConville, who opened the store with her daughter Kate McConville in June 2013. “Two-thirds of our customers over the holidays were new to our store, so we know word is spreading. We did well enough for me to know that we can make it.”

Eight months into their venture, Marvin’s enjoys return customers and lots of new faces who travel the Metra line, for example, to visit. “It’s very exciting — it’s truly been a dream come true for myself and my daughter.”

Fun for Kids, Good for the Planet

Differentiating itself has been key to Marvin’s success, and it does that by focusing on selling toys and games that fall under the categories of socially responsible,  fair  trade,  organic,  recycled, parent-craffted, green and/or natural.

“When you buy a toy at Marvin’s, we have done our best to ensure that it is safe, of high quality, made under safe conditions by adults who are earning a fair wage and with respect for the environment,” McConville said. “Each toy in our store makes a positive contribution in some way to the earth and her inhabitants in how it’s made and how it is played with over its lifetime.”

Finding vendors that fit Marvin’s profile has been relatively easy — and enlightening. “There are lots of creative people all over the world trying to bring to the toy industry unique and responsible products that have a low impact on our resources and a high value of imaginative play,” she said. “What is surprising to me is that some companies have been in business for 20-plus years, but I’m only just finding out about them and their business values.”

She cites PlanToys (Thailand), HABA (Germany) and Hape (China) as global toy companies making a differ-ence. “Each of these companies use natural materials in innovative ways, while being responsible to the environment in their production and use of energy,” she said. “These companies do business around the world  with  a high  regard  for  creativity  wherever it comes from, ensuring that they are being socially responsible as well in terms of benefits to their employees and business partners.”

California-based  Green  Toys  Inc. “makes an awesome line of classic children’s toys constructed from recycled plastic and other environmentally friendly materials,” McConville added. “This company has a commitment to reduce fossil fuel use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improving the overall health and happiness of the planet.”

 Cures for the Winter Blues

Marvin’s is stocked with bright, interactive toys, puzzles and games perfect on these cold, often gloomy winter days. “We are bringing in an assortment of family games, strategy games, math and language games, and games that are simply fun,” McConville said.

“We have some good standbys like Sequence and Zingo, and then we have a music game called Spontuneous that prompts lyrics that you know with a one-word hint. Or maybe you like visual dexterity games like Cubex that asks you to take a two-dimensional picture and make the pattern with cubes. If you are looking for trivia, we have Professor Noggin card games about subjects from wonders of the world to pets. One of our favorites is Tenzi, a racing game with dice. You all roll together and whoever gets the pattern first yells, ‘Tenzi!’ We also have some mind benders that are puzzles and games combined for individual play.

Marvin’s is helping beat cabin fever, too. The store just launched “Drop-In Game Nite” 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays through February 27. “When we opened, I was surprised how much families and kids wanted to play games together, and they got excited about being able to come in and try a game before buying,” she said. “We liked the idea because we could get feedback on some of the products that we could pass along to other customers. This gives us a way to build our business and attract new customers, plus we can get to know the people in our community and provide other options for them.”

Looking forward, Marvin’s hopes to launch craft days, science days, art days and more. “We are thinking of inviting people in, too, that have written books or songs, invented a toy or created a game,” McConville said. “There are endless possibilities.”

 Vertically Green

From the ground up, everything Marvin’s does is in the best interest of the planet and local economy. The following explains ways in which the shop accomplishes this:

  • LED lighting fixtures are from Crystal  Lake Lighting.
  • Flooring is a recyclable vinyl from Home  Depot.
  • All bags and wrapping paper are from  recycled paper and are 100 percent  recyclable.
  • Displays are from local antique stores,  second-hand shops or from Reclaimed,
  • Crystal Lake shop that repurposes  furniture.
  • Displays and storage are recycled plastic  or natural materials and made in the  United States.
  • Packaging material is recycled through  MDC Environmental Services.
  • Plastic and the Styrofoam waste is taken  to the Environmental Defenders  Recycling Drive.
  • Environmentally friendly cleaning agents are used.
  • Window displays are reused and  repurposed.

Meet Marvin

Marvin’s Toy Store’s namesake and logo holds a few special places in founder, Lori McConville’s’ heart. “I bought Marvin, the plush elephant puppet, when my grandson was born.  I chose an elephant because when I was young, I had an imaginary elephant friend that was very real and vivid to me, so an elephant is a symbol of my imagination.”

As a former kindergarten teacher, McConville used Marvin to introduce the kids to their first public school experience. “He helped us make friends, sing songs and play games,” she said. “He was the perfect role model. Marvin was shy and a little nervous about school, just like the kids, so he was easy for the  children to relate to.”

The elephant is also symbolic because “they’re family-oriented and compassionate, just what I want our store to be,” she said.

You can meet Marvin at the store next time you stop by!

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