Taking it back to the days when kids played with toys, not cell phones, Christie Gunkel has created a nostalgic local business inside the walls of 2nd & Lawler Co.
Since opening her candy and toy store in mid-September at the corner of East Second Avenue and Lawler Street, Gunkel has caught glimpses of how the retro atmosphere has helped kids and parents bond over enjoying a pack of candy cigarettes or Mallo Cups, while browsing the numerous toys scattered inside. It’s exactly what Gunkel hoped to achieve when she took the leap into the new business venture.
“So many kids play with cell phones and video games now, and I’ve noticed how it’s affected some kids’ ability to work with their hands and socialize,” said Gunkel, the owner of 2nd and Lawler Co. “They’re hands-on toys that get kids away from a screen or video game.”
While it is not quite a full month since she became a business owner, Gunkel’s dream of opening a candy and toy shop has been brewing for quite some time. After one visit to a large candy and toy shop in Perham, Minnesota -- the hometown of her husband Jeremy Gunkel -- she began dreaming of opening a similar storefront in Mitchell.
"We always had so much fun there, and after five years of bugging my husband about opening a similar store, he felt it was time," she said.
Little did she know the dream would become a reality when her husband caught wind that the entire East Second Avenue and Lawler Street building was up for sale. After the couple bought the building this past summer and spent the next few months transforming the two main floor storefronts into attractive retail spaces, things began taking shape.
“Once the building went up for sale, it couldn’t have been more perfect timing, because my niece was looking for a space to open her business,” said Gunkel, whose niece operates an indoor play center for children next door called Blossom. “It’s awesome that I can offer toys that my niece uses for some of the activities she leads to help kids' developmental skills. We complement each other well.”
As Gunkel unpacked a Tegu toy, she explained how the palm-sized wood block toy has roughly 20 different possibilities that kids can form with their hands. By forming the magnetic blocks into various shapes, Gunkel said it’s one of many toys designed to spark practical creativity.
"I have found that toys that get kids thinking outside the box, while working with their hands to create something, aren’t available at any places in town,” she said. “I watch my kids play with these toys, and they aren’t thinking about playing video games; rather, they are focused with the hands-on game."
With the shifting retail landscape that online shopping and Amazon have created in the city of Mitchell, Gunkel hopes to buck the trend of store closures.
“Since Shopko and Kmart closed, there are less and less storefronts to buy and check out toys. We hope people can see that we offer things Amazon and online shopping can’t,” Gunkel said.
Chief among those things, Gunkel said, is that online shopping doesn’t offer the atmosphere of her store. Built in 1915, Gunkel embraces the history of the building with old photographs of what the building looked like in the 1920s hanging on the walls. The old fashioned candies and sodas that line the shelves compliment the retro theme inside the store.
Along the back wall of the shop is perhaps the most popular product: a freezer with 10 ice cream flavors. However, it’s not ordinary ice cream. Gunkel recently worked out a deal with Stensland Family Farms, a family-owned dairy from Larchwood, Iowa, which is well-known for its homemade ice cream.
The 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. business hours have helped 2nd and Lawler Co. become a popular after school hangout for all ages. Gunkel said the frozen yogurt and ice cream help attract college and high school students. Whether it's artistic toys that spark creativity, children's books or old fashioned Slinkys, there are plenty of products geared toward toddlers.
Gunkel acknowledges that taking the risk of opening a business is quite grave in today’s business climate, but the rewards she experiences far outweigh the fears of failing.
“It’s not easy being a business owner, but I love when I have people come up to me and say, ‘I love your store,’ or ‘That’s my favorite local ice cream shop,’” Gunkel said. “That’s what keeps me motivated, and we’re committed to bringing more life to the downtown Mitchell area.”