BROOKVILLE — When one walks into C.S.A & Company, located at the corner of Madison and Barnett streets, it is through a doorway into a child’s imagination. The toys, books, puzzles and more that grace the shelves in this small store are the gateway for today’s children to experience the play that their parents and grandparents did.
“This is always something I wanted to do,” Michele Miller, owner of C.S.A & Company, said. “I always tried to for my nieces and nephews and then when my kids were born to buy unique toys that you didn’t see at Walmart and Kmart. I would scour the Internet just looking for different things to get my kids and my nieces and nephews.”
After she went through a divorce, she had to think of something to do. She ended up buying the former Dollar and More store and had that for a few years just to learn how to run a business because prior to the divorce she had been a stay-at-home mom. Then the McMurray building on Main Street came up for auction so she decided to see if she could buy it and she did.
She said she didn’t want a big dollar store so she decided if she was going to have a toy store, this was the time. “I just went ahead with the toy end of it,” she said. She opened that first toy store in 2011.
Miller, who does not have a business background, says she is a “go with the flow” type of person and she learns as she goes.
“I just started contacting companies myself and if they didn’t have reps that came (to visit individual stores) then I’d do it over the phone,” she said of how she started to set up her toy store. She would have them send her catalogs and then she’d pore over the books as she figured out what types of toys she wanted in her store.
She did have to learn the accounting end of the business but says, “There was no rhyme or reason. It was just feeling my way through it,” she says, noting that she didn’t go on to college after graduating from high school but started watching children, which must be why she has such a good idea of what children will like.
Miller’s goal for the store is she really doesn’t want any toys run by battery. “I wanted them to think,” to use their imagination, she says of children.
“When people come in and ask me, ‘What’s the latest, greatest tech toy’ I’m like, ‘you’ve come to the wrong place’ because that’s not what I’m about. There’s maybe a handful of things that have a battery in it, but it’s not any type of technical toy; it’s a sound toy or something,” she said. Miller readily admits that a toy store like hers is not the norm in today’s world of people having to have the newest tech devices.
“I just wanted to take kids back to old” days, she says, that the parents and grandparents remember. “It’s really neat when people come in and will say, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen that since I was a little kid,’” Miller says. “That’s what I like. That’s what’s cool.”
She closed the bigger store on Main Street earlier in the year and a week ago opened at the new location. The new store is a smaller space but Miller is okay with that as she says the larger building was kind of overwhelming as it is just her in the store. “This was more appealing to me because it was a little smaller, more manageable. And I liked that it had its own parking.” The one-story building also is a plus, she says, as are the bank of windows that allowed her to look out and see the snow on Friday. “I loved that,” she said of the view.
Down the road, she would like to see the store still going strong so that her youngest child, Abigail, can take it over. She says Abigail has the personality for it and the older two children have their own plans. While Miller is an introvert and shies away from huge crowds, she is very welcoming and ready to offer her customers one-on-one help to find the perfect item for their child, grandchild or niece or nephew. She loves talking with her customers and giving them the attention they might not find in big box stores.
“That’s really why I started this was because of going out on my own after being divorced, it was a job for me that my kids could be with me every day after school. The bus dropped them off in front of the store and they were with me. That was huge for me because I’d always been an at-home mom. So that allowed me to have them with me every day.”
The name of the store reflects how strongly this mother feels about her three children. The three letters – C.S.A. – are the first initials of her children’s first names, Clayton, 19, Sydney, 18, and Abigail, 16.
When she first opened a toy store, her children were 12, 11 and 9 years old. For them, she says, it was very cool that their mother had a toy store. They would help look through catalogs and give opinions on the toys they though the store should have. “They got the first chance to see something when it came in but I never gave them things,” Miller says. “They either had to work for it or if they bought it outright with their money. I would give it to them at cost but they still had to pay for it.” She said she realized it “could get ridiculous” if she just kept giving them the inventory.
For anyone who has not experienced C.S.A & Company, Miller says, “I really try to be very selective in what I pick that you cannot find in the Walmart and Kmart,” she said, noting that there would be some items that could be found in the bigger stores. “I really try my best to pick companies that aren’t already being carried in those big box stores.
“So it’s a specialty type shop. So unless you go into the bigger cities you’re not going to typically find these things,” she said, adding that she has items for age infant to adult. She wants to give her customers “more of a personal experience” to help them find what they’re looking for. The store also has various toys set up for children to play while parents are walking around.
Miller and C.S.A & Company are ready to help customers find something unique for under this year’s Christmas tree. She is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.