SIX YEARS INTO OWNING BROOKLYN TOY SHOP ACORN,
KARIN SCHAEFER AND HER PARTNER DIANE CRESPO ARE
GROWING THEIR BUSINESS, KEEPING ITS ROOTS IN THE
HEIRLOOM TOYS OF THE PAST, AND INSPIRING THE WONDER
OF CHILDREN AND ADULTS ALIKE.
Tell me how the store came about?
My partner Diane Crespo and I had been sourcing beautiful toys from all over the world for her
son Kaya, and we felt like there weren’t really
that many toy stores in New York that carried
handcrafted toys. I grew up in Europe, and I just
knew this tradition of beautifully handmade
toys that didn’t have all the crazy bells and
whistles, but actually engaged children’s imagination in a more open-ended way, and encouraged creative thinking. So [the store] just
organically came out of having conversations
about how it’d be fun to do a business of things
we’re interested in. We moved to Brooklyn a
few years before and felt like there was this real
sense of community here. We kind of thought
about it for a year and then we just jumped off
the cliff and opened the shop. Neither of us had
ever even worked in retail. I think just maybe
because when you’re in fields where you have to
self-generate, we didn’t know what we should
have been afraid of.
What were some of your favorite memories of toys you loved? What do you
remember playing with that you brought
to the store?
Every weekend, probably from the time I was
five or so on, my brother and I would go with
my father for a walk. We lived in Holland, and
there was this beautiful pinewood forest that
was sandy, and we would make these fairy
houses. And we would go back the next weekend and see that, of course, the fairies had been
there because everything had moved around. I
also grew up playing with Ostheimer wooden
animals from Germany. They’re all hand carved,
hand painted. There are a couple of them that I
played with as a kid that are still at my parents’
house with the tail still attached. And so I felt
like, it would be fun to have those here because
they’re such an heirloom quality toy.
toys are people really responding to and buying a lot of? What’s really resonating?
Well Kaya played with blocks from one to, you
know, ten, so that was something Diane really
wanted to focus on. We have alphabet blocks
and basic blocks, and then we have sort of more
complicated block systems and specialized block
systems, and then sets of specific monuments so
you’re building the pyramids or Japanese temples. So blocks are always a cornerstone of what
we sell here. Also art supplies, which links to me
as an artist wanting to have art supplies that are
of an incredible quality. You know how Crayola
kind of flakes off the page? We have a beautiful
soy-based line called Clementine. We have a
real range from young kids’ art supplies to more
sophisticated crafting projects like felt kits. A lot
of artists buy our art supplies.
And how do you come across these vendors and
products? How did you find someone like stamp
maker Small Object?
We found her on Etsy, but because I still have
friends and designers and artists in Europe,
people will sometimes say, “Oh did you see
this?” I have to say Brooklyn’s pretty amazing.
We have people coming through the shop and
almost all of it’s great. There are so many amazing creative people making these beautiful
things on the side that sometimes grows into a
bigger line. One of my favorite lines is Coral
and Tusk, and she does these embroidered pillows and onesies. Her pillows are incredible.
Stephanie Housley’s a genius! And I just met
her in Brooklyn. We also do select clothing by
mostly local designers. And all the clothes are
fair trade, and that’s a core focus for us: finding
products that are not only good for the children
that are playing with them or wearing them, but
are also made using sustainable materials and
SWEET PAUL . SPRING 2011 | 13