Shop lets kids give new toys a twirl

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2007

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Glenda Dyson’s new downtown store, Just The Thing, takes a hands-on approach.
“We’re a very touchable store,” Dyson says. “That’s what we want.”
Just The Thing encourages children and their parents to come in, pick up the educational toys on display and give them a try.
Dyson says there are hardly any toys in her store that have a battery. In fact, she’s hard-pressed to think of more than one or two.
But she says the toys and games she sells are the kind that stimulate and keep a kid’s brain growing. In a fun way, they go beyond regular math, science and reading and add in things such as problem-solving and social skills.
Her 11-year-old son, Davis, a rising sixth-grader, has become a natural salesman this summer for many of the things. “He’s my demo guy,” Dyson says.
One of Davis’ favorites is a fast-paced card game called “Blink.” “It’s pretty fun,” he says, explaining how players must keep laying down cards with letters or combinations of letters on them until they spell a word.
You have to use at least three cards, he says.
“We sell a lot of those card games to teachers,” his mother adds.
Davis also demonstrates a popular, kid-driven “plasma car,” which goes amazingly fast backwards and forward, without a battery or motor. Of course, in this store, you have to try it to understand how it works.
Many children come in just to play the strategy games.
As a mother of three boys, two of them now in college, Dyson used educational toys at home all the time. The same was true during her teaching days in elementary school classrooms for 21 years. Most recently, she was a kindergarten teacher at Rockwell Elementary School.
Now Dyson has mustered the courage to make a major career shift and enter the world of retail.
“It was time to do something different,” Dyson says. When she did some research and realized opening a store could be a real possibility, “everything just fell into place,” she says.
After first looking at retail spaces on Jake Alexander Boulevard, Dyson was drawn to 103 N . Main St., the downtown location next to Spanky’s restaurant. Most recently, her location had been Karen’s Consignment Shop.
“Everyone downtown has been super,” Dyson says. “So much goes on in the downtown that I didn’t really realize.”
Dyson likes the location because it is central to all the schools in the county, and “eventually, everybody comes downtown for something.”
Just The Thing specializes in educational toys and teacher supplies. Dyson says the store is for teachers, parents, grandparents and, most of all, children ó from pre-kindergarten into high school.
“I know my products and who I’m selling to,” Dyson says. She credits family and friends for helping her with the business end of things.
Dyson and her Mr. Fix-it husband, Barry, who works at National Starch, repainted the store, put in new floor coverings, built counters, ordered merchandise, set up displays and installed a computer system.
The teacher and art supplies come from various vendors, but many of the educational toys ó the ones made of wood and puzzles, for example ó are from the Melissa & Doug toy company.
Before she opened, Dyson planned on calling her business, The Teacher Store, until people she met at a Cincinnati exposition suggested that she try something different.
She next considered Just for Teachers but thought it was too confining. She meant to appeal to parents, too.
Just The Thing is a name that leaves it open to parents, teachers and children and on the storefront, she added, “Making learning fun.”
In her first two weeks of business, things are going great for Dyson. She relies on store help from a teacher friend from Rockwell Elementary, Sammie Hinshaw, and some retired teachers say they also want to assist.
Dyson capitalized during her first weekend in business on patrons coming to downtown’s annual Krazy Klearance sales. This weekend, she has benefited from the statewide tax-free holiday on school supplies.
Many teachers coming into the store have said they’ll be returning when they learn how much school supply money they’ll receive from the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. Dyson will offer teachers an extra $25 discount if they spend all their supply money in her store.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@