Less screens, more fun

Morgan Hill’s Thinker Toys offers a specialized experience

INSPIRATION From kites and rockets, to science kits and books, Thinker Toys helps create lasting memories. Photo: Robert Eliason

The look of wonder and pure joy on a child’s face when presented with that long-awaited gift is nothing short of priceless, but where do you go to find that perfect gift? That’s easy; just head to Thinker Toys.
Founded in 1969, Thinker Toys, one of the last vestiges of brick and mortar toy stores, has locations in Carmel, Monterey and Morgan Hill, at 311 Vineyard Town Center.
The small toy store chain is a family affair, with John Horner in the title role of president. Holly Horner, John’s daughter, is vice president.
“I run the front end of the business, so I do the day to day operations,” Holly said.
Holly is also the primary buyer for the company, and selecting the toys for all three locations falls to her, which she admits is the favorite part of her job.
“It’s really incredible; we have three stores so we go through a lot of toys,” Holly said. “At any given time, we have 6,000 to 10,000 skews in stock, individual items, depending on the time of year.”
Holly, who was home-schooled by John and her mother Ann, was introduced to the toy world at an early age as part of her education. The hands-on experience of working alongside her father provided valuable experience in interacting with customers and working the cash drawer. It also provided her with a unique skill.
“I am the fastest gift wrapper the business has,” Holly said with a grin. “I can gift wrap a box in about 30 seconds. I have gift wrapped hula hoops; I’ve gift wrapped 6-foot-long kites.”
Holly’s early working experience, beginning at age 12, also instilled in her a true sense of community.  
“I remember how cool it was to get to feel like I was important…and I was a part of the downtown business community even though I was so small,” Holly said. “It was a really unique way to grow up.”
Thinker Toys’ partnership with the community continues to be a staple of the local business.
“We’re really all about giving back to the community, and we’re really proud to be in Morgan Hill,” said Sarah Murillo, manager of the Morgan Hill store. “We donate raffle prizes to the local schools and local charities in town.”
Murillo is committed to her job and loves being a part of the Thinker Toys family. After almost three years in her role as manager, she still sees her job as “a really amazing experience.”
“For one, I’m surrounded by toys, which is just my love and brings joy to my life, and then I just love our customers and the community that we’re in.”
Murillo believes Thinker Toys’ customers are provided a “specialized experience.”
“Everyone who works here loves what they do and we offer a special experience to everyone who walks through the door,” Murillo said. “That’s what we’re all about: that wonder, that ‘wow’ moment when your kid comes in, the magic of a toy store.”
Kids aren’t the only ones who experience that wonder and wow, adults do, too. Gilroy resident Christina Solano recalls her first visit to the store over nine months ago.
“They had such a wide variety of books and really diverse topics,” Solano said. “They had stuff on immigration, very current issues, and things that people don’t really think about that kids have to deal with.”
Solano is happy to support Thinker Toys, an independent local business, and she encourages everyone she knows to do the same.
“This is a local treasure, I tell everybody about this (store), I want to make sure everybody knows,” Solano said.
Morgan Hill resident Diana Houghton is another big fan.
“This is a really great place to check out unique things,” Houghton said, adding that it’s one of the few places she can find USBORN children’s books.
Another reason to turn off the computer and head to Thinker Toys this holiday season, or anytime of the year, is to peruse the incredible selection of imaginative and fun items on display.
“Unlike going online, you can touch it, you can feel it, you can make sure it’s cute,” Holly said.
According to Beth Griffo, Morgan Hill resident and mother of two, Thinker Toys is also fairly priced.
“Which is unique for a small-town shop; you don’t normally find that,” Griffo said, adding that she believes in “supporting the small shop.”
Thinker Toys offers free gift wrapping all year long, and if you need a greeting card, those are available as well. They also have gift cards in all denominations. The Morgan Hill location is open seven days a week; hours of operation are Monday-Thursday, 10am-7pm, Friday-Saturday, 10am-8pm, and Sunday, 11am-5pm, with extended hours throughout the holiday season.
Holly hopes everyone will accept her invitation this holiday season.
“Stop by, visit us, say hello, no purchase necessary, just let us show you what we have to offer and come play with our toys.”

Kimberly Ewertz

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About Kimberly Ewertz
Kimberly Ewertz is a freelance writer for South Valley magazine and Gilroy Dispatch.