EVERETT — Twelve years ago, Loren and Heather Coleman were looking for a side gig to help with the bills.
The couple rented a seasonal kiosk at the Everett Mall and sold toys and games.
When a permanent retail space became available, mall management asked if they’d like to go year-round.
Today, Wishes is a Pacific Northwest-based regional toy store chain with eight stores.
“The store was originally set up to help pay for their daughter’s college education,” said Paul Lewis, the company’s regional manager.
Snohomish County is home to three Wishes stores — the original Everett Mall location, the company’s flagship store at Alderwood mall in Lynnwood and a third store at Seattle Premium Outlets in Tulalip.
Wishes also operates stores in Bellingham, North Bend, Tacoma and Murray, Utah. The chain’s eighth store opens on Nov. 1 in Vancouver, Washington.
The flagship store at Alderwood mall is a roomy 7,000 square feet that includes a demo area where customers can try out select tabletop games. Other stores are mall-based and average about 3,500 to 4,500 square feet.
Wishes employs 45 part- and full-time employees companywide, Lewis said.
Regional manager Lewis oversees the business.
The Colemans each kept their day jobs — Heather as a hospital administrator and Loren as CEO and owner of Catalyst Game Lab, a hobby games and fiction publisher, Lewis said.
The independent toy store focuses on hands-on toys, games and puzzles for all ages, from infants to grownups.
“We don’t offer the electronic toys,” Lewis said. “Most of our toys and games are designed to bring families and friends together face-to-face.”
Dolls, costumes, coloring books, Legos, Melissa and Doug Wooden Toys, and green toys, made from recycled materials, are customer favorites, Lewis said.
Robot construction kits and arts-and-crafts kits are among the many educational toys and games the store offers.
For the high-chair set, there are rattles, bath toys, sensory toys and washable place mats to practice reading, writing and scribbling.
“There’s lots of things you can’t find at other toy stores,” said Rita Layton, a visitor from southwest Washington who was checking out the puzzle section at the Alderwood store in search of a gift for her grandson.
Parents and grandparents can also find old favorites such as Spirograph, Lite Brite and Monopoly, including Britney Spears and Dungeons and Dragons versions.
And there are stuffed animals and board games galore.
Lyla Kultgen was toting a bat-shaped squishmallow she’d plucked off the shelf for her granddaughter.
“It’s just a pleasant place to shop,” said Ashlee Fanony,a fan of the store’s educational toys.
Business has picked up in the last three years. At the beginning of 2020, the chain operated just three stores.
“We’ve had a lot of expansion since COVID,” Lewis said.
Since then, Wishes has opened five new stores.
Nationwide, retail toy sales jumped from $22 billion in 2019 to $25.7 billion in 2020, a 17% increase. Last year, U.S. sales topped $29 billion, according to The Toy Association.
The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association estimates there are between 1,500 and 2,500 independent toy stores in the U.S.
Many of the independents had their best sales years in 2020 and 2021. And they’re optimistic the new customers they gained will continue to support them, Forbes reported last year.
Independent toy stores also benefited from a shift in consumer sentiment that valued shopping local and in-person, Forbes said.
“Here you have the ability to touch and see and feel,” Lewis said. “We take pride in offering a personal shopping experience.”