Chestnut Hill toy store owner turns to a new business after 17 years

The charming toy store at 8532 Germantown Ave. will soon be a memory. When the inventory at O’Doodles sells out, in roughly a month, no more honky-tonk music will play. 

 

After 17 years, the toy store is closing. For many in Chestnut Hill, the end of O’Doodles permanently marks the turn from a hands-on, personable shopping experience to a more internet-based or big box market for toys.

Fran O’Donnell, 52, the enthusiastic owner with a kind smile, says the business couldn’t keep up with the online market, competitive prices and price-comparison shoppers.

“Retailing has changed with the Internet age,” says O’Donnell

Looking ahead

Now O’Donnell is going from “selling dollhouses to real houses.” He’s had his realtor license since 2000 and works with Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach. It’s a lucrative business venture that serves as the back-up career his father insisted he needed. 

Connecting with a past era of toys

“It was more than me selling toys,” O’Donnell says. “I was selling celebrations, or everybody’s birthday or that dollhouse you knew was going to last years. I think I had a deep connection with the grandparents who really didn’t give in to the common world of [toys].”

O’Donnell also reintroduced the pimple ball to Chestnut Hill, an indented ball popular in the 1950s. Selling for $3.99, it is a product that wasn’t on the market for about 20 years.

“I was bringing back childhood memories for everybody. So I think that’s why people would come in the store, they would feel that,” he says.

‘Unplugged’

O’Donnell noted part of the issue is the shift towards technology-driven items. His store strayed away from such items. The motto of the store was “unplugged fun.”

“We would stock things that would be powered by kids’ imaginations so there would be no batteries, no extra stimuli,” says O’Donnell. “I knew they were going to jump into technology. But I wanted to get them thinking.”

Despite the closure of his store, O’Donnell believes more eateries and niche shops will populate empty retail spaces of Chestnut Hill in the future, such as Penzey’s Spices a couple doors away.

Martha Sharkey, Executive Director of the Chestnut Hill Business Association agrees that other specialty shops are lucrative.

“Retail within a business district adjusts and innovates over time. Online competition continues to be a challenge for independent retailers; however, we are seeing continued growth in Chestnut Hill with new restaurants and shops opening on a consistent basis… and Chestnut Hill is known for its specialty shops,” says Sharkey.

A personal touch

Many customers took comfort in Fran’s suggestions when picking out birthday presents. If on the run, a parent might call asking for a present for a girl aged 8 and upon their arrival, a top-selling present would be wrapped and waiting.

“The service factor is going to be a loss, but I think the personal touch is not the face of retail anymore,” says O’Donnell.

Haviva Goldman, a 10-year resident of Chestnut Hill says, “It’s so convenient to have a place in town where you can go shopping for birthday presents. They would wrap it nicely in their signature wrapping paper.”

“They have some stuff you can’t find in at these other stores” chimes in her son, Denis Lattanze.

Most of all, O’Donnell says he’ll miss the rapport he has with customers.

“Seeing the kids and the moms grow up and those special occasions, whether it’s first communion or all those little report card times.”

O’Donnell is planning to stick around the neighborhood with his real estate agency.

“I want to put the ‘real’ back in real estate, because I think some of that has [become too] technological,” he says. “I think I can do even more good, because I’ll still be dealing with families.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.