By Mike Bennett
John Veach

John Veach

Mary Jo Lahrmann discovered a long time ago what millions of viewers have just found out through watching NBC’s “Today Show”: Veach’s is a toy story unlike any other.

The classic store in downtown Richmond is a 17,000-square-foot Crayon-colored kaleidoscope of awe for children of all ages. It always offers tens of thousands of items for sale and a miniature castle that hosts hundreds of birthday princes and princesses each year. But, now it’s got a new can’t-miss yellow storefront, organized displays and unique hands-on experiences. Lahrmann regularly spends three hours browsing – and buying – at Veach’s Toy Station with her 8-year-old twin boys after making a 45-minute drive from the Oxford-Hamilton area of Ohio. “You can’t find anything else like it,” said Lahrmann. “It really is special; it’s so fun and unique.” Her husband, Steve, looks forward to the visits, too. They also have discovered The Firehouse in the Depot District, a barbecue restaurant. “There wasn’t a spot we didn’t look at (the last time they visited Veach’s). We spend too much noney,” Mary Jo said with a laugh. “But, it’s worth it.”

The store has delivered “worth-it” experiences for three generations of the Veach family. It first opened in 1938 and now is owned John and and Shari Veach. Moms and dads and grandparents come to find unique gifts for new babies, for birthdays, for Christmases, for any child-centered occasion. There are are games that appeal from toddlers to college students, that range from horse lovers to Star Wars lovers. There are stuffed animals from giraffe tall to rabbit small. There are hats with horns and king-and-queen crowns. There are beads, doll beds, puzzles and polar-bear pull-alongs. There are crafts kits and costumes. There are model horses, magnetic games and Melissa & Doug items by the dozens. There are children’s chairs and temporary tattoos. The Melissa & Doug lines are the best sellers, said John Veach, followed by Lego’s and Playmobils. He notes that there is a new line of Legos for girls. “We sell a ton of Legos,” he said.

It’s not easy to keep it going against the big box stores. The only way to keep the tradition alive is to offer what they don’t, John Veach said. So, the store offers things like free giftwrapping and layaway. It offers toys for children with development disabilities. It offers classes and toy experiences. “We’re one of a kind and we’re a dying breed,” said John Veach.

Toys at Veach's

Toys at Veach’s

That’s why it was a blessing when NBC called in late November and offered to do a store makeover and marketing plan that would help introduce Veach’s – and Richmond – to the nation and beyond. In came world-renowned marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom. Up went a bright storefront and more organized stations. Store employees and community volunteers worked together to make the updates. It was a lot of work, especially in the midst of the Christmas rush.

The program aired Feb. 1 and 2. Check the NBC website for ways to watch it via the Internet. “Every display tells a story,” John said about the marketing focus. He’s considering a billboard on Interstate 70 to tell travelers a bit of the positive Veach’s story. It’s a joy to come to work every day and see happy faces, Shari Veach said: “If you can’t have fun with a toy store, where can you.” The store’s signature miniature castle got a facelift, but it still offers hundreds of princes and princesses their special spot for photos each birthday. The store sends out 100 birthday invitations each month and a two-thirds of the children bring them back for a special present and chance to sit in the castle. “That’s been a staple for 40 years,” John said.

The changes, thanks to the “Today” makeover and publicity, promise to keep kids coming back for another 40 years and more. “We’re excited about the changes,” John Veach said. We have a lot of energy.”