Linden Hills Toy Shop Celebrates 30 Years
Creative Kidstuff was founded in Linden Hills in 1982
With its expansive store seemingly bursting out of its corner of downtown Linden Hills, it's hard to believe Creative Kidstuff once squeezed into a portion of what is now Great Harvest Bread Company, next door to Bayers Do It Best hardware.
But that's just where Cynthia Gerdes found herself on what would turn out to be a momentus day in May of 1982 as she turned the key opening her new toy store's front door and launching herself into the great unknown.
Gerdes had decided to start the toy shop while studying for her MBA at the University of St. Thomas, said current CEO Roberta Bonoff. Assigned a paper on starting a small business, Gerdes started pondering what to focus her research on. Her own small child very much in the forefront of her mind, she settled on a toy shop, but the more she researched, she realized she couldn't find a single toy shop that offered the kinds of toys she'd want her child playing with.
Nowhere could she find something selling fun, brain-teasing toys that help kids grow.
In the end, Gerdes never did finish her MBA, choosing to make her idea a reality.
"I chose Linden Hills because the neighborhood was and still is so family-focused," Gerdes told Patch in an email forwarded by a Creative Kidstuff spokesperson. "The walkable, tree-lined neighborhood continues to attract well-educated, down-to-earth folks who supported 'locally owned' businesses decades before most people even understood its critical importance. I remember sitting in my car at the top of the hill for hours on cold wintery days with snow blowing everywhere, and even then the charm of Linden Hills knocked my socks off."
It turns out, Gerdes' hunch paid off.
By the time Bonoff joined the company as a marketing expert in the early 1990s, Creative Kidstuff had expanded to six stores throughout the metro area. It wasn't bad for the brainchild of an MBA student, but things were still relatively modest, Bonoff said.
"Cynthia decided to go into the national catalogue business," Bonoff said. "We used to ship out of our offices—they were above the Linden Hills store. Peanuts were flying—it was crazy. When the UPS truck showed up, we had to make a relay down the stairs, passing packages hand to hand."
Now, Bonoff sits in offices near the corner of 46th Street and Hiawatha Avenue, and the UPS truck pulls into a loading dock at Creative Kidstuff's warehouse, whisking packages as far away as Australia (A family of ex-Minneapolitan customers moved there, Bonoff said, and continued to buy all their toys from the store). All that growth has been despite the store being part of an ever more digitized world, where a baby could as easily be playing with an iPad as a picture book.
"Parents will come in to one of our shops and say 'Oh, I had that when I was a child,'" said Ione Stedje, who's worked in the Minnetonka Creative Kidstuff store for 25 years. "It speaks to the longevity of some 'old fashioned' toys."
"A lot of customers come in because their kid is always on an iPad or a computer" and they want something different, she added.
Stedje said that with so much time under her belt at the company, she sometimes sees customers come in who themselves had grown up playing with toys from the store.