BerkShares Business of the Month: Tom’s Toys and JWS Art Supplies

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By Friday, Jan 19 Trade and Commerce
Tom Levin, owner of Tom's Toys and JWS Art Supplies in Great Barrington. Photo courtesy Schumacher Center for a New Economics

Great Barrington — Can you be too old for toys? Tom Levin doesn’t think so. His toy emporium, Tom’s Toys, has been delighting toy lovers of all ages for over 20 years. A mainstay of Main Street, Tom opened up shop in 1996 after spending many years traveling all over to find unique toys for his young children. Tom saw a gap in the local economy and decided to solve the problem at home.

A toy enthusiast from a young age, Tom still gets excited about going to trade shows, where he gets to test out the latest toys and gadgets. As an independent business owner, he has the unique opportunity to curate the store with products he believes have value and not just toys that are popular on the market. It also means that he’s able to think outside the box – the toy box, that is.

Tom Levin holding a 1 BerkShare bill in his toy emporium.

At its original location just two doors down, Tom’s Toys received repeated requests to expand the small selection of art supplies. But it wasn’t just Tom’s customers who influenced his decision to diversify: Tom’s eldest son “lobbied very hard” for his father to bring in new products to feed his growing interest in art. Instead of squeezing in another rack of watercolors and brushes, he decided to open up a whole new store: In 2000, Tom opened JWS Art Supplies, named for his three sons Jake, Will and Sam.

Tom says it’s hard to bring in locally made products due to restrictions on availability of materials for art supplies and tricky age requirements for toys. Still, he demonstrates his support for the local community and economy by displaying artwork of local artists, offering discounts to local artists and students, and hosting crafting workshops at JWS. At Tom’s Toys, he brings the community together by organizing game nights for card and tabletop strategy games like Magic: The Gathering and Settlers of Catan.

But what really sets Tom apart from his competitors, including digital marketplaces and big box stores, is the “unique experience” in his stores “that you don’t get online.” Both Tom’s Toys and JWS Art Supplies offer a hands-on experience of a highly curated selection, and the friendly and knowledgeable staff – many of whom are longtime employees – know exactly which toys are appropriate for a 3-year-old and which brush or marker is right for each specific medium.

Among the first to start accepting BerkShares when the program launched in 2006, Tom was drawn to the mission of strengthening the local economy and keeping money circulating locally. “When you order online, all of that money is going elsewhere and if you shop locally, the store is employing local families and giving back to the community,” he says of the multiplier effect of shopping locally. Like all businesses on Main Street, Tom has seen the impact of online shopping on his businesses but doesn’t care to dwell on it. He says of his confidence in local people, “Luckily we live in a community that realizes if you order everything online, our main streets won’t exist anymore.”

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