Tildie’s Toy Box, a diverse shop in Passyunk focused on gender-neutral novelties for children
Owner Michelle Gillen-Doobrajh has gone online with her store to stay afloat amid COVID-19.
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When Michelle Gillen-Doobrajh moved to Philadelphia from New Jersey to attend UPenn, she never thought that she would own a toy store in the middle of South Philly as she does now.
“I studied architecture, I loved it a lot but it wasn’t something that I wanted to do professionally,” Gillen-Doobrajh told AL DÍA in a recent interview.
But it wasn’t until she had her first daughter that she started paying attention to the toys provided for children.
There was a distinct lack of diversity, so Gillen-Doobrajh set out to fix the trend.
“I wanted to open a store that focused on gender-neutral and diverse toys,” she said. “I also wanted kids to have toys that added educational value.”
Gillen-Doobrajh’s store, Tildie’s Toy Box, opened in July 2016 and set up shop on 1829 East Passyunk Ave.
The store’s unique moniker is a combination of her daughters’ middle names, who were named after their grandmother and great-grandmother.
Since the opening of her establishment, Gillen-Doobrajh’s toy store has been positively received by the community, who also wanted to support other small businesses.
“Everyone was very welcoming and parents were really excited to have a children’s store in the community,” she said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the lives of millions of people, Gillen-Doobrajh’s business not only sold toys, but held a number of events to bring children in the neighborhood together.
“We used to host a lot of events like book readings, craft activities, and all kinds of other things that don’t happen anymore,” said Gillen-Doobrajh.
Her 1,000-foot store also saw its large play area for children sit vacant.
“We can only allow five customers at a time now, which means that children don’t get to explore together,” said Gillen-Doobrajh.
Along with the many other changes that have occurred, she also created a website for locals who don’t feel comfortable stepping into Tildie’s Toy Box just yet.
“We now are able to offer a shopping experience however people are comfortable,” she said.
In addition to supporting local toy distributions in different parts of Pennsylvania, her primary goal is to break the stigma of “boys and girls toys.”
“We lean towards specialty toys and gender-neutral toys,” she explained. “You won’t see a boys and girls section at the store.”
She believes that all children need to learn social and emotional skills and to play with all kinds of different toys, regardless of gender.
“We want children to focus less on screens and more time playing with hands-on toys and getting energy out,” she said.
Gillen-Doobrajh’s small business is just one of many that are in need of support from many locals.
To show her business some love, check out its abundance of toys on its website.