New toy store on Frederick Road aims to build a 'Better World'

Better World Imaginarium, a new toy and bookstore on Frederick Road in Catonsville, will have its grand opening Friday, June 14, at 924 Frederick Road with free Rita’s Italian Ice, balloon animals and crafts.

The shop opened its doors May 18, and has seen a decent amount of foot traffic and plenty of online support. It’s in the former home of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce, which moved offices in late May.

The grand opening and ribbon cutting is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The store is so named because its owner, Lisa Swayhoover, a Ph.D. in international education policy, holds the idea of global citizenship in high regard, and said she believes in building a better world. She plans to start a five-week program for elementary schoolchildren in the fall that will use games and children’s literature to teach about the world and global issues.

“A lot of times we think ‘global’ is out there, but we interact with the global every day,” Swayhoover said. “We need to see how we relate to the rest of the world.”

Swayhoover lives in the Paradise neighborhood of Catonsville and teaches as an adjunct professor at Towson University. She previously taught at the University of Maryland, College Park, and has been an educator at Port Discovery Children’s Museum in the Inner Harbor.

Behind the cash register in the store hang several artifacts and relics that Swayhoover has collected in her travels — a mask, a painting, nesting dolls and other wooden toys. On one shelf sits a carved crocodile from Ghana that opens up to reveal a game, called Oware. It’s the West African version of Mancala, a family of games that developed worldwide, all featuring similar rules and objectives.

She called the crocodile her “inspiration,” because it shows that different cultures can all connect through play.

“I like to play games. I’m a kid at heart. I use a lot of games to teach,” Swayhoover said. “It’s not book learning, it’s fun.”

The shop is partnering with Little House Art, a Catonsville-based art studio, to offer art classes for toddlers and their caregivers beginning in July. Swayhoover also plans to offer story time every week and other, to-be-determined events on a regular basis.

The books and toys for sale at Better World Imaginarium focus not only on being fun and entertaining for children, but on promoting diversity, creativity, giving back to the community and learning about the world.

For example, Swayhoover said, she sources some plush toys from Wild Republic, a company that donates money to the World Wildlife Fund. As the store grows, she wants to look into smaller, more local companies from which to supply.

Frederick Road in Catonsville has no shortage of restaurants — from the relatively new State Fare to more established places like Atwater’s, Jennings Cafe and Wieland’s BBQ. However, retail along the Frederick Road corridor has been a bit more limited, said Teal Cary, executive director of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re always happy for more retail; we really want and need retail,” Cary said. “[The store is] a great addition because there are so many young families in Catonsville.”

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