My name is Marlene Lewis, and I own Sunshine Sam Toy Store in Montclair, NJ. My son, Sam (currently, age 10) is Sunshine Sam’s Junior CEO, and the inspiration for this endeavor.
What makes Sunshine Sam different from most other toy stores is that we specialize in high quality toys, games and gifts from around the globe that also happen to be battery-free and screen-free.
So, why did I leave my marketing and branding career behind to start a toy business? When Sam was in preschool, attending birthday parties for his classmates nearly every weekend, we just couldn’t find gifts that seemed “special”. We’d go to a Big Box Store only to find that the toys were divided by gender. It was clear that the boys were the super heroes, while the girls played princess. This didn’t sit right with me, and it was confusing to Sam.
And when Sam would receive well-intentioned gifts, it was difficult for me, as a time-crunched parent, to go over and over the extensive instructions that I was “supposed” to urge Sam to follow. He wanted to use his vivid imagination and creativity. He was frustrated, and so was I. So the toys just sat there, unused.
Sam didn’t want to be Batman or Superman — he wanted to be “Super Sam”! So, I had a simple cape and mask made for him by a local seamstress with an “S” on the back that morphed him into the cool, unique kid he was. His set of powers included riding his scooter, building elaborate cities with Magna-Tiles, and drawing sketches of dogs, Pugs, in particular and becoming ticklish when he heard the word “tickle”.
Sam wore his cape often, and I was quickly asked if I could make them for his friends, boys and girls, alike. When we hosted play-dates, parents inquired where I found the “unusual” toys and games Sam had. That’s when I realized we were onto something. So we started a small website, www.sunshinesam.com and sold high quality, stand the test of time, toys and games that encouraged creativity and free-play.
Whether a hand-made wooden truck from Pennsylvania, a laser engraved kid-sized rolling pin from Poland, or a board game from New Zealand, or a bouncy ball made out of a balloon — parents loved our curated collection of gifts.
More recently, media attention has focused on the importance of limiting children’s time on electronic devices. But they rarely offer resources for achieving this fete. You can’t just tell children to “go play” without giving them the tools. Sunshine Sam provides these tools for all ages — even adults!
Etsy artisans and small toy companies are instrumental in making Sunshine Sam a success. The creativity of these independent artisans and makers seems endless. The most common things our customers say are, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” “Where did you find this?”
In May, 2016, we moved Sunshine Sam into a sun-filled retail space in Montclair, NJ (We outgrew our first retail location quickly.) Now we have game tables for families and friends to stop in, unplug and play. We hold Game Nights, Crafternoons, Make-and-Takes and small Birthday Parties.
We are committed to growing our unique assortment of over 20 artisan-made offerings, timeless toys and games, and spreading our joyful attitude towards play and gifting. Sunshine Sam is a true labor of love that our customers appreciate. Sam and I are “super” proud of what we’ve created.
Hope to see you soon!