By Roger Smith
While a final clear-out sale draws huge crowds just around the corner at Mrs. Tiggy Winkle’s, Maida Anisman sips a glass of wine and laments the demise of the store she created and nurtured for 43 years.
“I’m in shock,” she says. “Disbelief. Feeling numb. I’m in limbo.”
The Glebe is the last of her six stores to close, a victim of changing tastes in toys and competition from online shopping and big chains. But Anisman prefers to talk about the good times when the store was thriving.
“The store was happy, it was jolly, people would be talking about their kids and grandkids,” she says. “It was Cheers, but with toys. The Glebe needs to hear from me how grateful we are for the help in making Tiggy Winkle’s such a success. The whole community was so supportive.”
That support is still evident as long-time customers flock to the store to make one last purchase, post a message on the memory wall and say farewell to a neighbourhood institution.
“I’m very sad to see it go,” says Dawn Walsh. “It was always stop number one for my kids and now my grandkids.” Thoma Simpson, shopping with his 11-year-old daughter, says the store always elicited a sense of excitement and wonder. “A little bit of the culture of the Glebe is being lost in this closure.”
Anisman, a Glebe resident until recently, opened the first store in Fifth Avenue Court in March 1977 – “I wanted it to be warm and inviting, to look like an English nursery” – before moving a block north 10 years later. It was a family affair. Her first baby, Simon, born just after the store opened, jokes that he was “raised in a basket under the cash.” After working there as a kid with his two siblings, Simon graduated to helping run the business.
Success led to expansion in the ’80s and ’90s, with new mall stores at St. Laurent (later moved to Place d’Orleans), the Rideau Centre and Bayshore. Simon opened a spin-off, Lost Marbles, in the Byward Market and in Westboro along with another Tiggy Winkle’s. Then came the Internet and a tipping-point shift to online shopping.
“Can you stop Amazon?” asks Simon. “I can’t. In the past 10 years, the world has changed the way people shop. I’m sad, just really sad. We wish we could have gone on longer.”
Orleans, Bayshore and the Byward Market were gone in 2017. The Rideau Centre closed last December. Hopes of consolidating the last two stores crumbled – Westboro shut down February 29 and the flagship store on Bank will be history by Easter.
“Just immense disappointment in the reality, not in the decision, but in the reality it wasn’t sustainable,” says Simon.
Eira Macdonell, general manager of Tiggy Winkle’s, is the stable quiet yin to her boss’s creative outspoken yang. She started working for Anisman as a nanny 38 years ago. She kept the books and managed staff, including all the teenagers – “around a thousand,” she estimates – who’ve worked part-time in the stores and warehouse. Her four kids were among them. Her husband did store renovations. While her career job is over, she focuses on how lucky she was to have it so long.
“We never could have lasted 43 years without the community behind us,” she says. “That is the message we want to share. The outpouring of support and gratitude is immeasurable.”
In her mind, Tiggy’s died a death of at least a half-dozen cuts. More kids asking Santa for electronics like iPads, Xbox and Nintendo. More parents shopping online for better deals. Big chains like Toys R Us, Costco and Walmart, even grocery and book stores, selling toys cheaper, often as loss leaders. Tiggy’s tried online but the store was too small and had too little buying power to match big competitors’ prices. And the minimum wage went up, “which I support,” says Macdonell, “but it added to our costs.”
The Internet also had less obvious effects. Theft increased as shoplifters stole Pokemon and Lego not for themselves or their kids but to sell on Kijiji. More second-hand toys and games are now available online.
“A PlasmaCar we sell for $69 goes up on our neighbourhood Facebook site for $10,” says Macdonell. “That’s fine, but it changes the need for this place.”
As for Anisman, her pessimism about the toy business sounds like a warning shot for other neighbourhood retailers. “The landscape has changed. I think the days of independent toy stores are over, and I wanted to get out while I was still ahead. I just want to thank the Glebe for a wonderful 43-year ride.”
Sad, yet proud of her legacy, Anisman’s feelings are summed up by the last line of the closure announcement, a quote from Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Former journalist Roger Smith is copy editor of the Glebe Report.
‘Best of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle’s’
Most popular ongoing toys:
Playmobile, Beyblades, Pokemon,
Thomas the Tank Engine, Silly Putty
Most popular fad toys:
Groovy Girls, Cabbage Patch dolls,
inflatable furniture, Crazy Bones, Trolls
Most unexpected success:
Most popular board game:
Catan, “by a mile”
Harry Potter book launches at midnight
Meeting staff at 4:30 a.m. at the warehouse on Sundays in November and December to pack shipments to stores for the Christmas rush
Messages posted on Tiggy’s Memory Wall
“Tiggy’s was the first place my parents let me walk to “alone,” with my friends, as a kid. 3 blocks at age 7. Rachel”
“My children and later my grandchildren loved to come here. So did our dogs who always got a treat. We are all so sad. Thanks for the memories.”
“The most fun I ever had at a job. Love, Heidi”
“Such a wonderful store – I’ve been coming here for 37 years! The Glebe won’t be the same. Laura Paquet”