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Toy store includes the unusual

New owners focus on being interactive
by: Carole Archer, Reynolds High School sweethearts Ella and Mark Nimz are the owners of Tree House toys which replaces Toy Bear. The couple want the store to have a more interactive feel encouraging children to play.

If you're still mourning Toy Bear Ltd., the Gresham toy store that closed this summer after 24 years in business, then you need to take a stroll downtown again.

Tree House Toys, which opened last week in the former Toy Bear spot, is poised to become a new family favorite.

Owners Ella and Mark Nimz have kept a lot of what made Toy Bear so special - the educational and unusual toys you can't find at big-box stores - but they've also added their own flavor to Tree House Toys.

'We wanted to be more interactive,' Ella Nimz says, during a recent tour of the new toy store. 'We've redone the shelves, made it more open in here, so the kids can play.'

The owners are still waiting for the store's main attraction - the tree house - to arrive.

'They couldn't find a tree trunk that would fit through the door,' Ella explains.

The tree house, constructed from a Redwood tree, will arrive on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

There are other attractions, though.

The Nimz family relied on their own 'experts' when choosing their toys - their two children, Cole, 9, and Seth, 6.

'My boys like all the slimy bugs and this type of stuff,' Ella says, holding up a gooey ball that, when squeezed, pushes out another nodule of plastic, bug-filled goo.

'I like being here. I get to buy pink stuff and have tea parties with the little girls,' Ella adds, passing by a corner of frilly princess dress-up clothes. 'It's fun being in here … and our employees are really great.'

Chris Davis and Calvin Thorne are the new faces of Tree House Toys.

The two men, originally from Alaska, live next to the Nimz family and turned out to be perfect employees for the new toy store.

'It gives us a legitimate excuse to play all day,' says Davis, a student at Portland Community College.

'And we like being around the kids,' says Thorne, a Mount Hood Community College student.

'That's because we're still kids,' says Davis, teasing his friend.

Asked what their personal favorites are, Thorne grabs a 'retro phone' and plugs the plastic attachment into his cell phone.

'So you can carry your cell phone in your pocket and do this,' he says, putting the bright red phone, attached to a spiraling cord, to his ear. 'Isn't it great?'

Davis turns to the store's northwest corner and nods toward the spray-on tattoo booth.

'Spray-on tattoos. That's my favorite,' he says.

As for Ella Nimz, her favorite toy is tucked away on a wall filled with the gooey bug balls and scientific toys - they're called Dino Eggs and, when placed in water, they 'hatch' different types of dinosaurs.

A quick spin around the new, 4,000-square-foot toy store reveals more good finds: tons of stuffed toys; Manhattan Toys finger puppets; a classic wooden bowling game; fairy costumes; perfume making kits; a secret castle tent/bed; ant colonies; pirate accessories; and lots of 'Toobs,' the themed toy-filled plastic tubes that carry ocean creatures, dinosaurs, panda bears, cats or, as found in Tree House Toys, figurines of Jamestown settlers.

'Yeah,' Ella says dryly, when confronted with the Jamestown Settlers Toob. 'We found some really different ones.'

The upstairs room is devoted to games, infant toys and children's room furniture. This is where you'll find the stuffed animals and the unusual board games, but Nimz says she might move the infant section.

'We didn't think about parents having to come up the steps with strollers,' she says. 'So we might switch things around.'

For as much as the new owners have changed, they've retained the things that made Toy Bear a special part of Gresham for a quarter of a century, including the free gift wrapping service.

'We're slower than they were, but we do offer it,' Ella says of the gift-wrapping.

The store, at 130 N. Main Ave., is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call 503-618-TOYS (8697).

If You Go

What: An open house for Tree House Toys

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15

Where: Tree House Toys, 130 N. Main Ave., Gresham

Check out: The in-store tree house, made from a real Redwood tree trunk; and a spray-on tattoo booth.