Matrushka: A Toy Store With Timeless Values
For 18 years, the Matrushka toy store was the best kept secret in Great Barrington. Started by parents from the progressive Rudolf Steiner School and located on the second floor of Yellow House Books, it was a not-for-profit shop that carried wholesome toys like all-wood play kitchens, hand puppets, and Chinese checkers. Two years ago, when the shop’s manager, Ruth Blair, decided to retire, the shop was sold to Brooke Redpath (left), a Steiner alumna whose three children (ages 5, 7 & 9) attend the school. “We had to go to the attorney general to change the not-for-profit status,” says Redpath. “It took a long time.”
Once she finally became the owner, Redpath decided that she needed a street-level location.
“Our primary customers are young parents with strollers and grandparents who often found it challenging to climb the stairs to the old store,” she says. What’s more, the former store was a series of small rooms and the new airy store that opened over Labor Day weekend now feels much like the playrooms that Redpath believes every home with young children should have. “A playroom should be a place that stimulates the imagination,” she says. “It should be a room where children will want to spend time from age two to ten. We don’t carry anything electronic. Our basic approach is that play should be child powered. Play is in the action.” She doesn’t flinch when she hears children horsing around at the other end of the store, because she wants the store to be a hang out for them. “I want people to feel at home here on a rainy day,” she says.
While Steiner parents instinctively understand what her store is about, Redpath knows that other parents may find it challenging to encourage their children to play with old-fashioned toys and she is offering empathy and education along with exquisite merchandise. “Mothers will come in and say, ‘My children don’t play anymore’, and I will show them things for dress up or putting on puppet shows. These are things that have a universal appeal,” she says pointing to the Marble Whacker (a pared-down all wood arcade game) Anchor stone blocks (which date to the 19th century) and dress up clothes from Sarah’s Silks (which include fairy wings and other make believe items.). She also sells books and natural fiber children’s clothes. “The Merino wool long underwear has been a huge hit!” she says.
Some parents may also have sticker shock because many of the hand-crafted natural material toys are not cheap. “They’re heirloom quality,” says Redpath with sincerity. “Children recognize beauty and quality as much as adults do.” She was gratified when a customer compared Matrushka to a world-class New York toy store in bygone days. “A gentleman said, ‘This reminds me of F.A.O. Schwarz in the 1970s’,” says Redpath. “I was very pleased.”
309 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA; 413.528.6911
Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.