New low-tech toy store stimulates imagination with traditional toys ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE


The only toy that requires batteries in Mumbles & Squeaks -- historic Ellicott City's new and only toy shop -- is the horse that whines when you touch its ears.

All the other knickknacks and playthings run on imagination and innovation -- like the marionettes that hang from crisscross wooden sticks.

Owners Ed Williams and Frank DiPietro, who opened the store in August, specialize in toys that spark creativity. They offer an array of hand puppets as well as wooden frogs, caterpillars and wooden trains that move by the tug of a string -- hand-fashioned toys that will withstand generations of wear and tear.

"Kids see 300-something murders on TV a year," said Mr. DiPietro, who as a kid played with tin cans and strings, among other homemade toys. "Kids need toys to stimulate their imaginations."

The store on Maryland Avenue occupies a renovated 1830 building that was a storage area for the B&O; Railroad, now a museum right across the tracks near Mulligan Hill.

The store bears the names of characters from a children's book the owners are writing.

The centerpiece of the store strikes a Colonial theme: wooden toys, pewter plates and knickknacks from Williamsburg, Va., surrounded by red, white and blue cloths.

The owners dress up in black breeches, waistcoats and tri-quartered hats -- traditional Colonial garb -- to create an old-fashioned toy store atmosphere.

"We wanted something that was different, and it just fit in Ellicott City," said Mr. Williams, who used to be the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's executive director.

The toy store offers more than Colonial-era toys. In one corner sits a pile of rag dolls, from miniatures that start at $2.95 to handmade, one-of-a-kind Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls that run up to $46.

In another corner are wooden dinosaur building sets, helicopters that run on solar power, and a microscope set for budding scientists.

"I remember what it's like being a child, and my favorite toys were those that stimulated the imagination," said Mr. Williams.

Although neither has children, the co-owners said they've learned much about parenting since opening the store. Some parents who come in use an iron hand, forbidding children to touch anything, while others treat their children like adults.

"Their children make the decisions," Mr. Williams said. "They talk to their children like they are 27-year-olds."

They greet their customers -- the young and old -- this way: "It's a toy store. Come in and play."

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