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Oakridge Hobbies and Toys is More Than Just Child’s Play

Retailer caters to the inner child in the young and old.

When Chris Robb describes the family business as “walking into Santa’s workshop,” he’s not kidding.

Customers who first enter are greeted with myriad bright colors from floor to ceiling, life-size animals and toy soldiers intermingled with hundreds of toys and hobby items.

And that’s just within the first 30 seconds of the visit.

Since April, owners Sue and Terry Robb, son Chris and their friendly staff have been arranging and re-arranging their new 11,000-square-foot retail space to give it appeal reminiscent of FAO Schwartz.

The move from Downers Grove to the Darien location at 75th and Lemont next to Joanne Fabrics was the third expansion since the business opened in 1987.

“We like this area,” Chris Robb said. “We have lots of families that come in here  and many customers have been coming to us for years.”

Particularly popular is the vast selection of remote-control items, model kits, dollhouses, educational resources, slot cars and puzzles, in addition to games and floor to ceiling displays of stuffed animals.

And if you don’t see it, then ask for it, Robb said. They can order thousands of items and have them in store quickly.

Robb said that parents often bring their children to find a new project to work on together or to expand a current interest. Adults come in, too, with interests ranging from traditional models to remote-control models—especially military planes, tanks and current conflict vehicles.

“RC (remote-control) items are really popular,” explained Robb. “New technology makes it very exciting for (enthusiasts), especially because accessories are becoming interchangeable between models.”

If you’re into puzzles, you may have a dilemma since there isn’t a puzzle aisle; rather, there are puzzle aisles, with an inventory that’s likely to pique the interest of any “puzzler."

Customers looking for traditional models can veer from the simple to long-term projects; certain wooden ship models can take up to four years to complete.

And if you’re into dollhouses with a knack for assembling each room as if it were a real-life living space, then you’re in luck—you can peruse through wallpaper selections (of course they can special order too) for each room, or select the perfect brick color for the tiny domain.

Robb explained that besides trying to offer a huge selection, Oakridge strives to keep its location user-friendly by constantly implementing interactive displays. Slot cars can be tested on an in-store track, activity tables attract younger customers, and there’s a train feature that allows manipulation of sounds, lights, even garage doors all by pressing various buttons.

And speaking of younger customers, children from ages four to 11 receive special treatment during the summer months.

Sue Robb explained that between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, kids can participate in free craft projects, including sun-catchers, sand art, treasure chests and jewelry boxes.

“The craft projects are really popular,” Robb said. “We’ve had as many as 36 kids in here for projects with their parents (parent attendance is required). There’s no registration required—just drop in.”

The fun store atmosphere and commitment to good customer service are the focus of the entire staff. Chris Robb said they’ve even had regular customers apply for jobs—and get hired—because of their positive experience at Oakridge.

During the holiday season you might assume employees dread the frenetic activity in such a store, but Robb describes a much different atmosphere.

“The holiday season is fun. We goof around with our customers and everyone in here is in a good mood,” Robb said.

He explained that since the nature of the business is enjoyment, the work environment must be enjoyable also.

“If our employees are having fun, the customers have fun,” Robb said.

Marie Markowski July 12, 2011 at 10:10 PM
I LOVE Oakridge Hobbies! Their "Thomas" selection is amazing and the puzzles!!! Hoping to make a trip this week with one of the grandsons.
Michelle Iskowitz July 13, 2011 at 01:41 AM
Marie, I was pretty impressed myself and the selection of puzzles seemed endless!

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