Winnetka’s First Toy Store

Originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2021 Gazette, By Meagan McChesney.

Few local businesses have held such fond memories for children growing up in Winnetka as the Village Toy Shop. For over 70 years, the store was a staple in the Village, providing the only one-stop shop for classic and new toys, free polka dot gift wrapping, and amazing customer service.

Prior to the 1940s, the Village of Winnetka had never had a toy shop. While toys were sold in various local hardware, clothing, and gift shops throughout the Village’s early decades, local families were forced to venture out of Winnetka for that truly magical toy shop experience. As the population doubled in size from the 1920s to the 1940s, prospective business owners surely recognized the growing demand for dedicated children’s entertainment and shopping in the burgeoning downtown area. In 1948, that demand was met when the Surprise Shop opened at 807 Elm Street.

While the name was changed to the Village Toy Shop in the early 1960s, the Village’s love for the shop remained for decades to come. “It seemed like everyone bought toys at the Village Toy Shop,” former employee Ellen Rice
said. “And, of course, everyone recognized the polka dot wrapping paper,” she added. Rice worked for the shop during the 1960s when it was owned by the Massey family.

Village Toy Shop train set, 1962. (Photo courtesy of the Trieschmann family)

Penny Trieschmann also remembers when the Masseys owned the shop. “The Masseys wrapped all our Christmas gifts, stored them, and then delivered them to our house on Christmas Eve day! We loved that store,” Penny said. She also recalled that “the toys they carried weren’t typically advertised on TV. They didn’t carry Barbie dolls or plastic
toys — only high quality, unique toys like puppet theaters, large 18” wooden train cars and engines as well as Madame Alexander dolls.”

Like many Winnetkans, Pat Berwanger fell in love with the Village Toy Shop early on. She started working there in 1980 and in 1984, hired her daughter Liz to help out as well. The Berwangers purchased the shop a year later, helping the business thrive until they made the difficult decision to permanently close in December 2019. “This was such a big part of my family’s life and the community’s history,” Liz told the Daily North Shore.

Former Village Toy Shop owners Pat and Liz Berwanger, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Liz Berwanger)

When I reached out to Liz about this article, she was excited that the Historical Society wanted to feature the store. “It is really wonderful that people want to remember our beloved shop,” she said. The shop’s iconic storefront sign was donated to the Winnetka Historical Society in January 2020. Now, a part of the Village Toy Shop will live on in the archives.

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