For nearly five years, Emerson Mitchell Clarridge has had a dream of starting his own business. This would not be unusual if Emerson weren't also starting fourth grade at Spring Garden Elementary School.
But last year his mother, Cindy Clarridge-Kelly, took his dream and made it come true for both of them when she opened Emerson's Toy Exchange in Hampstead.
"He has always had a vision of his own company," Ms. Clarridge-Kelly says. "When he was in kindergarten, he asked for a briefcase and a file cabinet for Christmas. Now he reads Forbes and Inc. magazines. He's very interested in business things.
"I wanted something that would involve him, something where I could work my hours around his schedule. So I named the shop for Emerson and we're learning the business together," she adds.
Emerson's Toy Exchange is a bright and cheery shop at 1326 N. Main St. that sells recycled toys. It's hard to tell by looking at the toys that they aren't brand new. But Ms. Clarridge-Kelly has carefully selected them from people who have brought her their children's used toys. She and Emerson clean them thoroughly before putting them on the shelves of the shop.
A year and a half ago, Ms. Clarridge-Kelly was working as a typesetter for a graphics company. When business slowed and she was given less work to do, she began to think of alternative work.
She wanted something with flexible hours, something near home. She remembered a toy consignment store she had visited in Silver Spring and thought the idea might be good in Carroll County.
"The area is growing. There are a lot of kids here," she says. "And everybody's leaning toward recycling. There's nothing like it here, a lot of used clothing but not just toys and books and that kind of thing.
"Plus, I thought it would be relatively inexpensive to get into and start up because whatever I did I had to do it on a shoestring."
So far her shop has been successful. "There's a balance of people wanting to bring toys in for me to buy and parents who come wanting to buy toys. A lot come in who have younger children, 1 and 2 years old. They think it's great because they're saving a lot of money.
"I think I have a lot of customers that normally wouldn't buy used things that come in and have been buying because things look good."
She gets Fisher-Price, Playskool, Little Tikes, Johnson & Johnson, and some Discovery toys. There are also puzzles and books. Prices range from 25 cents to $18, with $5 as the average.
Most of the items are relatively new. She hasn't had many really old or antique toys come into the shop, although she hopes to get into antique and collectible toys someday.
She shares the space with Jean Rauser Inc., a pedicure and manicure salon. Ms. Clarridge-Kelly and Mrs. Rauser discovered they were both looking for a space in Hampstead last year, so they decided to get something together.
"We found this space but it looked very different," Ms. Clarridge-Kelly says. "We just got in here -- me and my husband, she and her husband -- and worked on it for a good two or three weeks.
"Her husband is in construction, so he built this wall. My husband, David, is in the glass business, so he did mirrors on my side and on her side to make it look bigger. Now we share a lot of the expenses and it's helping us both."
Ms. Clarridge-Kelly does not take toys on consignment. She buys by appointment and pays cash. But she will start taking Nintendo tapes for consignment Nov. 1.
In addition to the used toys and books, she also has a few new things -- a line of refrigerator magnets, calendars and prints from an artist in Vermont.
Mrs. Clarridge-Kelly offers a matchmaker service: "If someone is looking for a particular item and I don't have it in here, I take their name and number. And if somebody brings that in for me to buy, I put it under the counter and call them first." She also holds items for customers for up to two weeks free of charge.
During the Christmas shopping season, beginning Nov. 1, the toy exchange will be open late two days a week instead of just one, until 7:30 p.m. on Mondays and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. There will be visits from Santa on Dec. 5 and 19 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with free gifts for the children and photographs with Santa taken by request.
"There's not a whole lot of money to be made in this business, but I think it's worthwhile. And the community really is supporting me. People come in and think it's a great idea," Ms. Clarridge-Kelly says. "A lot of people have so many toys that they have enough to give away to churches and needy groups, and then they still have excess that they'll bring in here."