Eleven-month-old Vivian, the daughter of owners Larry and Anna Rogers, is right at home at Bear N Friends.
There are no perfect jobs, but looking at a typical workday for Larry and Anna Rogers, owners of Bear N Friends Toy Shoppe of Kingsport, theirs probably comes pretty close. At 10:15 every morning, both open their shop located on East Market Street with their 11-month old Vivian in tow, contently pulling blocks and boxes onto her lap or being scooped up by Laura-Larue Jones, the only other employee.
Bear N Friends is both very up-to-date and charmingly old-fashioned at the same time. It is by definition, a toy store - toys for kids. But that definition falls a little short. More specifically, Bear N Friends is a store for both kids and adults who still love to play. It features items that activate the mind and the imagination. It has "toys" virtually for people of all interests.
Larry has a family connection with toy stores. Having helped his sister who also owns a toy store since he was a teenager, he learned how to stock and select quality merchandise that is unique.
"We try to provide the best toys we can from around the globe," he says simply. As proof, we look at one of the most popular lines of toys he carries, the outdoor active toys. Picking up a colorful disc that looks like a textile hat, he tells me it’s called a flexible pocket disc - something you play catch with that won’t knock over the lamp or have a wary kid duck from, the way some do when a hard baseball is thrown at them. It’s incredibly soft and easy to throw and Larry says, "I was the No. 1 dealer in the world on this item in 2009."
From there, we move on to toy trucks and tractors and the like, made by a company called Bruder, a German toy manufacturer and one of Larry’s favorite lines in the store. They are quality, Laura-Larue interjects, showing me how all the doors open and the truck moves with telescopic steering - very much like a real truck does. She says, "You can take a Bruder truck directly from the sandbox to the bathtub for thirty years and it looks brand new. Bruder toys are that well made. These are toys that will be collectibles. Parents played with them and hand them down to their own kids."
Strategic games are another hot item at Bear N Friends with varieties that appeal to adults as well as kids. Corridor and Pylos are favorites and Larry says they make great party games. "Put Pylos out on your coffee table and just watch people come up and start to play," he says.
Other brands that draw customers are Usborne books, a line of educational books that many people want, as well as My Friend Huggles, a large, cushiony doll that he tells me won the Best Toy of the Year Award for 2012. Stomp rockets have been the top seller at Bear N Friends for a while now, but one of the hottest items in nation currently is a LCD writing tablet called a Boogie Board. You write on it with a stylus or anything really and then hit a button and it is erased like a sophisticated Etch-A-Sketch.
There is so much to see at this toy store that Anna says people come in all the time to check out the new items or to play with Vivian. It’s the perfect place to find unusual, quality toys and games - no way can you find this kind of gift at the typical big box store. And Anna says she gift wraps around 20 presents every day.
Having prowled around Bear N Friends for about an hour looking at Edgar Degas puzzles and Kid Galaxy remote control cars, I realize I have more information than I could fit into two stories and regretfully close my notebook, thinking this shop is destined to be a place I check out frequently. And soon.
Bear N Friends Toy Shoppe is open from 10:15 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday. There is a big and popular Facebook page in lieu of a website. To learn more, call 423-245-5046.