Franklin’s Toys Encourages Active Play In Young Customers

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This is a special year for Jeff Franklin, owner of Franklin’s Toys in Park Plaza. It’s the sixth anniversary of his store, but it’s his “sixth-squared” year in the toy retail business — 36 years. Franklin opened his first shop in downtown Annapolis in 1979, and although much has happened in the years since then, Franklin is as enthusiastic as ever about making a difference in the lives of Severna Park’s children.

A former teacher, Franklin recalled that he was inspired to open a toy shop because of the passion he and his wife, Lee, also a teacher, had for nurturing young minds. “We love working with children,” he said. “We wanted to stay involved with children outside the classroom, and this has been the perfect way of doing that.”

Franklin made his debut in Severna Park in 1985 with the opening of BeBeep, and for the next two decades, he made a difference in the lives of innumerable customers. He sold the business in 2006, but by 2009, he had returned to the same location to open Franklin’s Toys. The toy store was too much of a passion of his: He cared about his longtime staff members, he appreciated his customers, and he loved the community. “For all those reasons, I was interested in coming back,” he said.

Franklin knew that he was going to have to come back to rebuild his business; what he didn’t know was that it would be so rewarding. Despite the recession, his customers were loyal and continued to value what sets Franklin’s Toys apart from other businesses — mainly, its products.

The inside of Franklin’s Toys is a whimsical world full of amusements both classic and novel: dolls, games, musical instruments, puppets, science projects, puzzles, art supplies and much more. Franklin indicated that his merchandise selection encourages active play, in which “the child determines the agenda.” Playtime thus becomes a time for using the imagination rather than consuming media through electronics.

Franklin also connects with youngsters through regular events at the store, such as story times, Lego construction expos and game nights. “It’s a great platform for doing good for kids and families,” he said of his work at the store.

As an active member of the community, Franklin volunteers his time to numerous good causes. He has served as the president of the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce, the chairman of the Shop Local campaign and the chairman of the Early Childhood Coalition. He is also philanthropic: Last year, he made 150 donations, mostly to schools and charities.

Through it all, his favorite part has been his role as a friend to generations of children. “I love the longtime relationships we’ve established with families in Severna Park and Annapolis,” he said. “There’s something special about being a point of continuity in a world that changes a lot.”

Although some cynics might say that video games are replacing toys or that online shopping is superseding brick-and-mortar shops, Franklin’s Toys proves there’s still an important place in the community for its business model. “I hope it will still be here when I hit seven-squared years,” Franklin said.

Franklin’s Toys is located at 558A Ritchie Highway and is open Monday through Friday 10:00am-9:00pm, Saturday 10:00am-6:00pm and Sunday 11:00am-5:00pm. To see their full selection or learn more, visit www.franklinstoystore.com.

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