A 'magical' local toy store is coming to the Broadway Corridor in downtown Fort Wayne

From the time Taber Olinger was a teenager in the 1990s, riding her bike to hang out in downtown Fort Wayne, she has been drawn to the historic buildings along the Broadway Corridor.

After moving away from her hometown for college and living in bigger cities, she moved back to Fort Wayne in 2008 with her husband and realized her dream of being a downtown shopkeeper.

In 2015, Olinger opened the quirky and cute gift shop Fancy & Staple at 1111 Broadway in a historic 1880s building with hardwood floors and exposed brick walls.

Since it opened, Fancy & Staple has become a catalyst for public art and reinvestment along the Broadway Corridor, and it’s inspired Olinger to invest again herself.

As she stocked Fancy & Staple’s shelves with locally made goods and unique products, she found herself—and her four-year-old daughter, Eleanor—increasingly drawn to the store’s toy section.

Eleanor enjoys the toy section at Fancy & Staple.

Upon realizing that Fort Wayne was lacking a locally owned toy store for children of all ages, Olinger made it her mission to create one.

After years of hard work—and despite setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic—Olinger is opening her whimsical, rainbow-themed toy shop in downtown Fort Wayne this April called Hopscotch House. Better yet: Her new shop is only a block away from Fancy & Staple in yet another historic 1880s building she’s bringing back to life at 1301 Broadway.

We sat down with Olinger to learn more about Hopscotch House and her hopes for Fort Wayne’s future.

IFW: Tell us a little bit about you and what inspired you to open your first shop, Fancy & Staple. Taber Olinger

TO: I was born and raised in Fort Wayne, and I'm proud of it. My husband and I moved away for a few years while we went to college and experienced what it was like to live in a couple cooler, bigger cities. It never made sense to me why Fort Wayne didn’t have the same cool things that these other cities had. I was convinced that Fort Wayne had potential, and I wanted to be part of it. 

My husband and I moved back to Fort Wayne in 2008, and I began looking for an opportunity in the fashion industry here (haha, right?). I had just graduated college with a bachelor's degree in fashion design and merchandising... not my smartest decision ever. I settled in at a local clothing boutique called Symmetry and stayed for six years, thinking I was going to take it over at some point. Toward the end, my heart had drifted so far away from fashion, I needed out. Fashion is hard y’all... you're either in or you're out, as they say. I wanted more for myself and my city; hence, Fancy & Staple was born and opened six months later!

IFW: What inspired you to create Hopscotch House? How long has it been in the works?

TO: I was inspired to create Hopscotch House for a few reasons. I think the first reason is because of my four-year-old daughter, Eleanor. She is all things fun and joyful. Being her mother is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and Hopscotch House is in honor of her (and all the other “Eleanors” of the world)!

Olinger's four-year-old daughter, Eleanor, has helped inspire Hopscotch House.

The second reason is because I am literally a 40-year-old child. I love anything cute, fuzzy, and fun. Rainbows make me so happy, and I still like to have a stuffed animal on my bed. I wanted to create this space for myself just as much as for the kiddos!

And lastly, I knew opening toy store was a smart move. I’ve spent five-and-a-half years watching parents buy for their kids here at Fancy & Staple. I’ve seen the kids’ excitement when they go back to the toy section. Their squeals of joy make me so happy. Plus, news flash, there are ZERO toy stores in this city. Our children are severely deprived, and I want to fix that!!!! 

I first thought of opening a toy shop in the summer of 2019(ish). My plan was to celebrate Fancy & Staples’s five-year anniversary by opening another store. So it’s been in the works for nearly two years, which is A LONG TIME! Especially considering that Fancy only took six months.

A peek inside the future Hopscotch House.

IFW: Tell us about the name Hopscotch House, and what type of atmosphere or vibe customers can expect at your new toy shop.

TO: I wanted the toy shop to have a fun and welcoming name. Something that made it obvious that it was for kids. Of course, it had to have a good ring to it, as well. I went through hundreds of words, different combinations, for months, and finally, Hopscotch House clicked.

It was fun; it was welcoming; it was cute and cozy. That’s the vibe for the shop, too. It’s a place for fun for everyone! All are welcome in this space, with walls full of rainbows, flowers, and horses, and shelves full of toys at all price points. There’s something for everyone, even adults!

Hopscotch House will carry items from small-batch makers, handmade pieces, locally made goods, and art.

IFW: You're renovating another historic space on Broadway for Hopscotch House. Tell us where it is, how you found this space, and how you're renovating it.

TO: I must be the luckiest girl in the world (maybe not lucky because I searched forever and worked HARD to get this one) because Hopscotch House is located one block south of Fancy & Staple, at 1301 Broadway.

I began my search back in the fall of 2019. I first fell in love with the Canal House on Superior. Unfortunately, after a few months of effort, that one didn’t pan out. I was looking to purchase, not lease, and I needed a space with a certain look to it.

I looked in the 05, 08, 07, 02... pretty much anywhere if the space was cute. And then COVID struck. That threw a real wrench into my spokes. The market was at a standstill; everyone was finding their own way to adapt. People were holding onto their properties or asking way too much for them. It was impossible. At the same time, I was adapting my business at Fancy and doing local deliveries.

Driving around this city every day really gives you a different perspective. I discovered so many hidden gems and awesome buildings with toy shop potential. The only problem was: None of these vacant properties were for sale—a very discouraging problem for a girl trying to open a new store in the city she loves!

Not only did I need a space for my business, but I also felt terrible for these neat old buildings and wished that they would be renovated and turned into more local small businesses. So I began writing letters. I searched old tax records to find out who owned these properties, wrote a compelling letter of intent to purchase, and sent it away with fingers crossed.

Most of the time, I didn’t get a response at all, or I’d just get a flat-out, “no.” There were a few that considered selling, but asked waaaaaay to much, and there was one that started high and then negotiated, which is 1301 Broadway. My dream spot.

Hopscotch House is located in the historic 1880s building at 1301 Broadway.

IFW: What do you enjoy about being in historic spaces on the Broadway Corridor downtown?

TO: Well, first of all, I love DTFW. I always have. I remember riding my bike downtown when I was a teenager and just hanging (cause that’s what teenagers do). I lived on Ardmore, so that was quite a ride. That was back in the '90s when there was absolutely nothing going on downtown. It didn’t seem to matter because it was still COOL to be downtown. We’d hang out on Broadway a lot, right where the Phoenix is now. So many fond memories.

That is when my love affair with downtown and Broadway started, and it just grew from there! As the years went on, I lived in several downtown apartments and pretty much walked everywhere. Fast forward to 2021, Broadway is super rad, full of art and local businesses, and the incredible Electric Works coming soon. I couldn’t be more proud of this corridor and where it’s headed. AND, I’m lucky enough to have two super historic buildings, both built in 1880, to run my businesses out of.

I love historic buildings because they have so much history. Just imagining all of the different businesses that housed themselves inside of these buildings, it’s so interesting. Think of all the stories these walls could tell. And I find the architecture of old buildings so much more appealing and the overall workmanship to be far better than new construction. They’ve remained standing for this long and deserve our respect and preservation.

Fancy & Staple is located in a historic 1880s brick building at 1111 Broadway.

IFW: What has been like growing Fancy & Staple and launching another small brick-and-mortar business during the COVID-19 pandemic?

TO: It has been difficult, to say the least. It’s just me here. (I just hired my first employee for Fancy & Staple this month.) So last March, when the pandemic began, I closed Fancy immediately.

I had to get all my merchandise online quickly and begin free shipping and local delivery. I pulled Eleanor out of school so she was with me all day (phew), and we worked together Monday-Friday. We spent our days processing orders, doing local deliveries, listening to Princess songs, and trying to keep this business afloat.

Four months of that really wore me out, but thankfully I was able to open back up in July.

Doing all that while still trying to open another shop was quite literally a juggling act. I was constantly working on something. Doing multiple things at once. Never not doing something. Hahaha! You get the picture. Needless to say, that is why it has taken me almost two years to get this toy shop open.

Vintage vibes at the new Hopscotch House.

IFW: As a serial business owner downtown, what advice do you have for other small business owners (and would-be owners) who would like to create a shop of their own?

TO: My advice is to be thorough. Do your research; take your time; do it right; no shortcuts. Think of every possible thing you may need, and check it off the list, and do it now rather than later. Make sure you pick the right location with a lot of visibility and neighboring businesses. Reach out to the community, and create that hype. Be consistent, and stay fresh in people’s memories. Start promoting early in the process because people love to watch progress. Create something special that entices people to come to you rather than the big box stores. And do it now, before everything gets too expensive!!!

A hopscotch rug at the Hopscotch House.

IFW: Thinking about the retail and online markets, what percent of your sales for Fancy & Staple/Hopscotch House would you say are in-store versus online?

TO: Fancy & Staple is probably 90 percent in-store and 10 percent online. I think that’s mostly because people just love the vibe in here. They actually enjoy the in-store shopping experience more than the online convenience. Hopscotch House is obviously 100 percent online because the storefront isn’t opened yet.

My takeaway from this (and what future entrepreneurs take away should be) is that you’ve got to give people incentive to shop in-store with you. Create an aesthetic, good music, cool displays, great service, etc. We gotta fight for the sales these days because between the big box stores and websites, us little guys could be squashed in an instant.

IFW: In the era of internet shopping, what do you see as the value of brick-and-mortar shops in cities like Fort Wayne?

TO: Brick-and-mortar shops are what make a city special. They give it character and make it a more desirable place to live and visit. Without these brick-and-mortar shops, why would anyone choose Fort Wayne? Why would they spend their dollars here?

We are the true backbone of this city, helping the local economy, and distributing the wealth throughout the community. We ARE Fort Wayne, and without us, does Fort Wayne even have an identity? (Referring to all small local businesses when I say “us.”)

IFW: Are there any other locally owned toy shops in Fort Wayne to your knowledge? What is the market like here compared to other cities?

TO: There’s definitely a nice selection of locally owned shops in Fort Wayne nowadays, especially when you compare it to 10-15 years ago. But I believe this city has MORE potential.

When you go to other cities there are way more restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries, museums, etc. The big difference, and what I love about Fort Wayne, is that when something new comes here, it’s a huuuge deal. Everyone cares about it because we’ve not yet become jaded here. On the other hand, people who live in a bigger city tend to take everything for granted because of the multitude of options there.

Now, I’m realistic and know that this is not Chicago. It’s never gonna be quite that “big” here, and our market may never fully catch up, and I’m ok with that. As long as we keep growing and supporting our local businesses, Fort Wayne will just keep getting better and better. 

IFW: Having a locally owned toy shop sounds magical. Tell us about the types of toys you will carry and the experience of the shop itself. What will make your toy store unique?

TO: I’m glad you used the word magical in the question, because that is exactly how I would describe it. In the eyes of a child, when they walk in, they should see and feel that magic. It’s colorful; it’s whimsical; it’s cozy and safe feeling; it’s everything you want for your kids.

The toys are all more unique than you would find at your local Target store (nothing against Target AT ALL; we love Target). There’s a lot of wooden toys, vintage toys, unique games, items from small-batch makers, handmade pieces, locally made goods and art, special lines from the UK, France, Australia, etc., collections from popular lines like Meri Meri, Tender Leaf, Douglas, etc., books, art stuff, paper products, clothing, accessories, dress up, baby stuff, AND ON AND ON AND ON.

Everything will be too cute, and you won’t know what to get because you’ll want to get it all (a typical problem people have at Fancy).

IFW: When will the shop be open to customers, and how can customers keep up to date on the latest information?

TO: I haven’t announced this yet, but I will say it now, Hopscotch House will be opening April 17th-18th with a giant block party grand opening celebration!

I plan on having Breckenridge Street (which is the street the toy shop's entrance is on) barricaded and six tents set up with different activities in each one of them.

There will be a photo booth, crafts, coloring, storytime, food trucks, a princess and superhero meet and greet, and a unicorn!!!!

I’ll have to limit the number of people allowed in the shop at one time, so this should keep everyone entertained while they’re waiting outside. If you’re not already, follow along on Instagram @hopsctochhousefw and Facebook to keep up to date on all the happenings.

IFW: As a small business owner, what inspires you to keep investing in Fort Wayne and building your dreams here?

TO: I’ve always been on team Fort Wayne, rooting for the underdog. I remember back in the day when everyone was moving somewhere else because they didn’t like it here. It made me sad. So much lost talent.

There’s no good reason why I shouldn’t believe Fort Wayne has potential and invest in it. We have an amazing community here, with talented local artists and musicians, ambitious entrepreneurs, and good people doing good things. I think we can all agree that we are well on our way to some real measurable growth here in the next five to 10 years; with Electric Works and Riverfront leading the way. There’s nowhere to go, but forward now, so hold onto your butts!

IFW: What are your hopes for Fort Wayne's future?

TO: Let’s just keep moving in the right direction, y’all! I’d like to see our art movement continuing, our downtown beautification extending beyond the 99 blocks of DTFW, more small local businesses, attention to Southeast Fort Wayne, more support for BIPOC and LGBTQ community members, and hopefully as COVID slows down, bring back events tenfold!

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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