In the heart of Carmel City Center, amidst the hustle and bustle of life, stands a whimsical toy shop where childhood dreams come alive. Its shelves are brimming with opportunities for imagination to take flight and wonders to be discovered.
In today's world, opportunities to peruse the aisles of local toy stores have become less prevalent, as many of us now find ourselves shopping virtual aisles online or hastily testing and playing with items at the back of a grocery store before making a purchase. Fortunately, Kits & Kaboodle continues to offer this cherished childhood experience for both the young and the young at heart.
Sitting down with owner Teneen Dobbs, I discovered how she is enchanting the Carmel community with her developmental toy business. We also explored how her family is building a legacy that revolves around the well-being and happiness of children.
Teneen emanated an enthusiasm from a recent trip to "market," where she immersed herself in discovering the latest and greatest products to bring to her store. I was captivated by her learnings, and was transported to my own childhood memories of a large store best-known for making sure “I don’t want to grow up.” As Teneen thoughtfully explained the latest toy trends, I fondly remembered the childhood magic I once felt walking through a giant “toy chest” to pick out some sort of fun and entertainment.
Kits & Kaboodle, a long-standing establishment since the 1970s, has consistently offered imaginative and educational play experiences since its beginnings at Glendale Mall. Over the years, the store has relocated a few times. Teneen and husband, Craig, acquired the business in 2004, and have dedicated themselves to making families’ lives a little more fun ever since.
Through a smile, Teneen shared, “We still have those people who used to shop at that location, back in the 70s, come in today, which is lovely.” While owning a toy store was never on the radar for her career, Teneen's college degree with a minor in business and extensive retail background, coupled with raising four children of her own, served as the ideal combination to sustain the enchanting atmosphere that customers love.
“I started at the Glendale Mall location learning the ‘business of toys,'" Teneen said. "When I was at L.S. Ayers, I was focused on the home store. So, I had to kind of go back to the 101 of child-rearing because my kids were past the developmental ages for most of the products.” While no small feat, getting into the developmental toy industry felt comfortable because she was raised by two teachers, her siblings became teachers, and her business was an extension of her passion for education and being around children.
In 2020, Kits & Kaboodle moved to its current location in Carmel’s City Center, and Teneen set out to design what she felt was the perfect toy store. During the height of the pandemic, she saw a renewed focus from families searching for ways to find laughter and joy, so she drew inspiration from a trip to London and her favorite childhood story about Mary Poppins to create the playful atmosphere. The entire shop was designed to encourage kids to play, and if you time your visit just right, you can even have tea with Mary Poppins herself!
It’s important to Teneen that the store not only provide a welcoming atmosphere for children, but is also a place to test-drive some of the toys. “We will feature a game once a week to show people, and we set it up so they can try it out.” This helps customers get to know some of the store's unique and rare products.
While toy trends may change from year to year, one constant for Teneen is her family’s spirit of caring for children. They proudly support and provide developmental and educational opportunities for children outside of the store walls.
With Teneen's support, her husband, Craig, founded the Children’s TherAplay Foundation in 2000. TherAplay's mission is to ensure children with disabilities and/or unique needs receive physical, occupational, and speech therapy using the movement of a horse (hippotherapy) as a tool to accelerate physical, emotional, and behavioral development. Currently, their daughter, Kassie O'Malley, is the Director of Development, and their son, Kalvin Dobbs, manages the show-jumping barn on the same property.
Near Elkhart, Indiana, where Teneen and Craig grew up, they are partnering with the local Boys & Girls Club and community members on a project aimed at restoring a 1929 gym. The revitalized space will serve as a hub for after-school activities and care. The two are active contributors to this project, and find so much joy prioritize the well-being of children in their hometown.
As she shared more about her passion for children and education, Teneen expressed, “I also love the public library. It’s where I go when I need a little break from the world.” From a very young age, she remembers the library being her “happy place.” So it’s no surprise she dedicated six years as a board member during the planning of the new Carmel Public Library, and continues to support the Carmel Public Library Foundation with contributions from the store for fundraising or as a volunteer for events. In fact, the store frequently contributes to organizations with education-based missions who request donations.
Reflecting on her personal experience and the importance of local libraries, Teneen shared, “I believe everyone should have a library card, because at the library there are no limits to what educational purposes you can have to better yourself.”
After getting to know Teneen, I understand why she and her husband wanted to own a business where happy childhood memories were made. They have built a space with an unwavering commitment to fostering imagination, education, and the well-being of children. Even when looking at who they want to hire to run the store, they are committed to finding those who love education. “We are always looking for friendly faces to greet people at the store entrance, and then the training behind it follows our motto: play is my job.” She likes hiring aspiring educators who understand children’s developmental needs, but is equally grateful for some key hires who have been with her along the way. Teneen shared, “I have a staff member, Eric Demalon, who was Salesperson #1, and he is still with the company. And there's my store manager, Jeri Dorsey, who is my lifeline. I appreciate her because she loves what we do.” These employees have helped create a haven where dreams take flight and childhood memories are made.
Beyond the walls of their store, Teneen and Craig’s outreach and involvement in community projects demonstrate their genuine dedication to lifting up the lives of those around them. As the laughter and joy reverberate through the aisles, it is evident that this toy store is not just a place to purchase toys, but a testament to the transformative power of compassion and community spirit. By supporting this local treasure, we not only invest in the future of our children, but also in a brighter, more vibrant community.
“We still have those people who used to shop at that location, back in the 70s, come in today, which is lovely.”
"...our motto: play is my job.”