A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Toy Story

Every town should have a toy store like Mr. Mopps'.
You know what I mean: an old-fashioned mom & pop store with friendly vibes, nooks and crannies to explore, and aisle after aisle piled from floor to ceiling with wonderful toys of all shapes, sizes and prices.
Since 1962, Mr. Mopps' has been a veritable Mecca for the children of Berkeley. Generation after generation have grown up and brought their own children - and now their grandchildren - to Mr. Mopps'.
So when word spread last April that longtime owner Eugene Yamashita was planning to retire and close Mr. Mopps', the whole city went into mourning.
But I have great news: Mr. Mopps' isn't closing after all. At the last second, somebody stepped forward to buy the store.
"Well, almost exactly," says new owner Devin McDonald, who bought the place with his girlfriend, Jenny Stevenson. "We'll still have swords and laser blasters, but that's about it as far as military stuff. No more cap guns or realistic-looking weaponry."
On the other hand, they'll keep stocking a few Barbie Dolls, much to Jenny's discomfort.
"We were torn about it because of what they say about body image," she says. "But our rep really twisted our arm."
Owning Mr. Mopps' has been a lifelong dream for Devin, who grew up in Berkeley. (His father is singer/songwriter and antiwar/veterans' rights activist Country Joe McDonald.)
Devin has been a loyal Mr. Mopps' customer since he was a toddler, when his grandmother, the late City Councilwoman Florence McDonald, took him there and bought him his favorite teddy bear, Mr. Choo-Choo.
(Incidentally, Mr. Choo-Choo is still with us, albeit a little worse for wear, resting in a place of honor in Devin and Jenny's living room.)
In a related story, one longtime customer, Gabriella Raymond, is spearheading a campaign to refurbish the huge Mr. Mopps' Lion, who has kept watch from his special window on Martin Luther King Way for more than 30 years.
"He's getting awfully mangy, and his head doesn't turn to greet you as you walk by anymore," she says.
You can contribute by visiting the "Fans Of The Mr. Mopps' Lion" page on Facebook or by dropping a few coins in the lion-shaped piggy bank on the counter in the store.
Ever since word got out that Mr. Mopps' isn't going to close after all, the tears have turned to cheers.
"We get hugged by strangers and thanked every day," says Jenny. "People come in all choked up, thinking they're going to be shopping here for the last time, and then their faces light up when they find out it isn't true."
Mr. Mopps' will be open through the Holiday season, then will close for a few days while Devin and Jenny brighten it up with a new paint job and get rid of decades of dust.
"I wouldn't have sold it to anyone but them," says Yamashita. "I was prepared to shut it down, but I saw this young couple who really understand what it's all about and want to continue the tradition. I hope they can do better than I did."
That's a tall order because he did it to perfection. But I think Devin and Jenny are up to the job.