Entrepreneurial spirit alive and well at Old Town Bluffton's May River Toys

Special to The Bluffton PacketJuly 16, 2013 

After having a baby and finishing her MBA, Jaja Epps was ready to start her own business.

"My husband and I, we were looking for something to do that I could actually have the baby," Epps said. "I didn't want to go back to work full time, but I wanted to do something that I could have her at work but still be able to take care of the baby more often than just a regular job."

The Bluffton resident and her husband, Christopher, saw a "For Rent" sign on Calhoun Street and jumped on the opportunity. Epps called her friend and former employer Nicole Gorddard, whose family owns Harbour Town Toys in Fresh Market, for help. Epps and Gorddard officially opened May River Toys two and a half months later at the Bluffton Village Festival.

"We did everything ourselves," Epps said. "After work, my husband would come and do all the renovations. Nicole would come and paint. During the night, we would come in here and paint the ceiling. It's pretty much only family work, Nicole's family and our family... It was kind of a family affair."

Toys for children of all ages line the walls of the tucked away store that sits between the Gallery Without Walls and The Store. Gorddard, Epps and her husband created a shop that gives customers options for toys they might not find in a big box store.

"We try to find local and unique items," Christopher Epps said. "For example, we now carry Kazoobie Kazoos, which are made in Beaufort. We try to partner up with companies you don't find in the mass market."

Jaja Epps also added an international section to the store. The Czech Republic native hopes to help bring Czech cartoon mole Krtek, as well as other toys from her homeland, to Bluffton.

"Nicole is mostly in charge of merchandising," Jaja Epps said. "I would like to carry more wooden stuff, wooden toys that are made from the United States or from the Czech Republic. And some childhood toys that I had over there as well."

The 1950s cartoon the Little Mole is extremely popular in the Czech Republic and other Central European countries. The franchise includes books, movies, stuffed toys and other memorabilia. In 2012, Apple announced it would be helping to bring the cartoon to the United States market.

Epps said she's planning to carry more Montessori learning-based merchandise, as well.

In addition to the toys, Jaja Epps also would like to host activities for children at the store. The couple discussed having costumed tea time and a chess group.

"We've been very well (received) within the Bluffton community," Christopher Epps said. "They know us, they've accepted us and they'd rather support a small business, a locally owned business, than a bigger store."

The Eppses both have an entrepreneurial spirit. They plan to use the toy store as a starting point for many other business ideas.

"What we plan on doing is using this place as an incubator," Christopher Epps said. "So if another place on the street opens up and the toy store needs more space, we can move into the other space and this space will become another store. We plan on being at this location for a very long time."

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