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In the heart of downtown Frederick, Md., two stores sit just 300 feet away from each other — both owned by husband and wife Marlene and Tom England. The couple left their jobs in 1999 to take the plunge on an idea they’d been thinking about for a long time: a toy store that carries only non-electronic and battery-free toys and games for kids. A year later, Dancing Bear Toys was born; the opening of their independent bookstore Curious Iguana followed 13 years later. Retail Across America’s road trip stopped by their stores in Maryland, where This is Retail spoke with the Englands about their lives as small business owners and their commitment to the community in their town.
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When describing the atmosphere of their toy store, Tom England looks back at a childhood memory of Mrs. Bingley — the grocer at the corner store in his hometown. Mrs. Bingley knew all the kids, and everyone in the community loved spending time in the store. Tom hoped to create that environment for another generation of kids, and he did — with summer camps, daily educational activities, story times, sing-alongs and even blanket-fort building, the store has been a staple of fun in downtown Frederick since its opening. “We’ve been in business long enough where I’ve had kids grow up coming to the store, go away, get married and bring their kids back in,” Tom says.
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Marlene and Tom England opened their second business, Curious Iguana, in 2013. In an age where tangible books are considered a thing of the past and reading from a tablet is the norm, they took a big risk in opening a no-nonsense, old-fashioned bookstore. The store itself is small and holds a carefully curated collection that matches the interests of the community. As a bonus, Curious Iguana operates as a benefit corporation and donates a percentage of proceeds to global nonprofits each month — something that the Englands agree is a “very important thing to do.”
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