BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – You can’t miss the big, bright colorful sign announcing a rebranding at Dollhouse Dreams in downtown Fort Madison.
Owner Brenda Derr, renamed the educational toy store in downtown Fort Madison Shug’s Tiny Town & Educational Toys, after closing up her Burlington location in a contraction of the brand.
Derr said her initial plans were to have two locations and then expand, but COVID’s impact on retail has forced her to go back to just one location.
“I was trying to use the funding I got, which was great, to keep both locations open, but it was only for one location because of the way I’m set up and we couldn’t keep them both going,” Derr said.
But that misfortune is turning the Fort Madison location into a cozy play center for area youth.
A diner, a fire station, grocery store and other provincial town offerings are located inside a gated play area where children can move about the store fronts using their imagination and playing together.
Derr said you won’t see a screen anywhere in the store.
“We want kids to use their imagination and not be in front of a screen. That’s still our philosophy.”
Workers loaded up the play buildings, which were part of the play area at the Burlington location and brought them to Fort Madison. The buildings were moved in through the windows at 820 Avenue G. Derr said those are old single pane windows and she was worried about removing them, but everything went according to plan.
The newly branded toy store features the Melissa & Doug toy lines, a Build-A-Bear work station, Megan’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream parlor and lunch counter, and a store full of educational toys. Megan’s features panini lunch combos and other freshly prepared items and $4.99 kids meals with healthy options.
Derr said they will be open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. 7 days a week with the new play center open until 6 p.m. She said the last hour will be spent cleaning and sanitizing the play areas. She said additional cleaning will take place throughout the day.
Tuesdays will feature a 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. $5 special. Other regular day passes are good for the entire day so if a family has to leave they can return as long as the children still have their wrist band on. Parents must accompany the children in the play center.
On Saturday Oct. 31, children can come to Shug’s for trick or treating from 10 a.m. to noon. with advanced purchase tickets. Space is limited. There will also be stations to decorate pumpkins that day prior to the Old Settler’s Trick or Treat from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the citywide trick or treat from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
On Sunday, parents were encouraged to come down with children and grandchildren to experience the new play areas.
“I wanted to try a small event to get things started, but this will all start Monday morning for sure,” Derr said.
She’s also talked with the Fort Madison YMCA and wants to look at other partnerships with schools. Another idea is to work with the Fox Theater for a date night, where parents could drop kids off at the play center and then take in a movie.
Derr came up with the name Shug’s because her father used to call her Shug, short for Sugar, when she was a little girl, so she put that name on in honor of her father. The play center includes a “Grandma Ruby’s Diner” which is named after her mother.
More information will be available on the store’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/shugstinytown.