By Georgia Davis
In Belmont County’s Martins Ferry, there is a three-story toy store called Deluxe Toy & Hobby. Its owners, Constance and Michael Yeso, provide their fourth-and fifth-generation customers with care and consideration.
The Yesos acquired Deluxe Toy & Hobby from Constance’s parents in 1978. The original store was a one-room, 900-square-foot building filled to the brim with toys. The Yesos expanded to the current three-story structure the day after their honeymoon.
“We honestly didn’t think we could possibly fill this store,” Michael says. “Once we started filling it, we just never turned away. … We could probably fill another building this size.”
Selecting the toys
Every February, the Yesos travel to New York City for the American International Toy Fair, an event the couple has not missed in 40 years. They are part of the approximately 25,000 people who show up. It takes the couple about four days to sift through the 1,500 toy companies’ catalogs, which stack up to be about 3 feet tall when they return from the convention.
“This is where you find the very unique products. A lot of the companies that show there won’t necessarily sell to the chain stores,” Michael says. “There are some mass-market people there, but there’s a lot of specialty vendors there. We can find a company that has one really cool item, and we’ll bring it in.”
Sometimes the Yesos are ahead of the toy craze. When Cabbage Patch Dolls were released in 1983, the dolls had sat on the shelves of Deluxe Toy & Hobby for a while.
The year of the Cabbage Patch Doll also brought employee Lori Tyber to the store. She started on Aug. 24, 1984, and the toy craze helped her acclimate to the industry. Until then, she had never seen two grown women fight over a doll.
“By Christmas time, people were clamoring for them,” Michael says.
Inside the store
Each level of the store houses different toys. The ground level contains the crowd pleasers: giant Magic 8 balls, trucks, stuffed animals and books. The downstairs area holds recreational toys: sleds, pool floaties and bike tires.
The upstairs houses a row filled with board games. Mixed in are the latest dolls and toy tractors, along with Fisher Price retro model toys and Lincoln Logs. No space in Deluxe Toy & Hobby is left unoccupied; even the stairwells have shelves of toys.
Because Deluxe Toy & Hobby is family owned, it makes shopping in the store special.
“I could be with a customer for an hour,” Tyber says. “In a lot of the stores you go to, sometimes you have to find it yourself.”
Customers and family first
Instead of looking at what features the toys have, the Yesos find items that focus on play value. Stations throughout the store demonstrate that perfectly; magnetic train areas and other interactive toys are placed throughout. The stations promote hands-on interaction with the toys, instead of being a toy that just sits on the shelf and makes noises.
“We look at the feature of the play, and that’s the difference between the mass-market toys. They look at the features of the toy—if it’s got flashing eyes. We focus on the features of the play that the toy will benefit the kid,” Michael says. “A good toy has substance.”
The Yesos’ four children help with the store when they’re not working day jobs. Melissa Yeso is there on the weekends and stops in to see her parents every day. Melissa says the store was the best place to grow up, and it’s as if her parents are Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, gifting toys to children all around.
“It takes a weird and amazing couple to work together and run a business together,” Melissa says.
The Yesos have met hundreds of thousands of people, Michael says, and a map near the cash register highlights that. People have come from as far as Alaska and Beijing, China. It’s that investment in the customers that makes it a successful independent toy store.
“We treat our customers like we would want to be treated. We’re kind of old school. We like what we do. It’s not a job to us; it’s our life. We have kind of taken a responsibility for our little corner of the Earth and we’re trying to inspire as many children as we can,” Michael says. “It’s just what we do.”