Dandy Lions Children’s Shop in Red Bluff
By Melissa Mendonca
Fine & Dandy
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Alexis LeClair
Adding to the nostalgia of historic downtown Red Bluff is a toy store called Dandy Lions, with a mission to bring quality, non-toxic play items to kids in a fun way. “When I was little, I remember going to the toy store with my grandparents,” says owner Jessica Sylvia, 41. “And it was memorable. That’s the feeling I try to replicate.”
She keeps play zones around the shop where kids can test drive toys and keep themselves occupied while parents shop.
While a toy store is a natural vantage point from which to watch children grow, the growth of Sylvia as a businesswoman is just as phenomenal. “A year before this happening, I would have never, ever thought that this is where I would be.” And yet, she says, “I love it here. I absolutely love it here.”
Eight years ago Sylvia would have described herself as the proud mom of two young boys who became “the Saturday girl” at children’s resale store Two Peas in a Pod. “It became a break from my life,” she says of her weekly gig at the cash register. “It was so nice.”
Yet the day came when it looked like Two Peas in a Pod would close. Customers shared their grief with Sylvia, who had a keen sense of it herself. When one suggested she keep the business going, she responded, “I’m too scared to go into business.” With a laugh, she adds, “Nine days later, we signed the lease.” The first incarnation of Dandy Lions was born, a primarily resale children’s clothing and baby items store. Tucked back a few blocks from Main Street, it was known by word of mouth but didn’t have a large presence in the community.
Not much later, Sylvia opened Wholesome Goods, an attempt to bring fresh, organic and natural foods to Red Bluff. While she eventually closed this venture, Sylvia didn’t revert to the fear that originally held her back in business.
“I went to a baby shower and nothing came from our store,” she says. “I knew I was missing an opportunity.”
With that insight, she took the leap to Main Street and revamped her business model to move from resale to primarily new toys and upscale, carefully curated lines of children’s clothes. Now, she says, “People come to my store to get a baby shower gift or a birthday party gift that is unique and not cookie cutter. They aren’t getting the same plastic toy.”
The move to Main Street, nestled amongst a bevy of unique shops such as Wink, Discover Earth and Enjoy the Store, has made all the difference. “It was a game changer,” says Sylvia. “I have great neighbors, and there’s something about that side of the street, too.” That “something” on the 600 block of Main Street is a network of primarily women entrepreneurs who support and encourage each other through savvy collaboration.
“We all text each other. We bounce ideas off each other. It’s great to work in community rather than just working alone,” she adds.
Sylvia brought not only a service for children and families to the mix of businesses, but an upgrade to a building that was well-loved yet the victim of well-intentioned yet not well-executed upgrades over the years. “I’m really waiting for the spirits of the old owners to come tell me why they changed the facade of the old building,” she says with a laugh.
Under layers of carpet and linoleum, Sylvia found old floors that she painstakingly prepped for restoration. “I don’t understand why my arms aren’t like Popeye’s because it was so much work to get to those floors,” she adds. “The ceilings were a beautiful color of nicotine yellow and the fans were brasstastic.” Perhaps most famously, the fans were held up by bolted-in toilet seats, causing a chuckle or gasp of anyone careful enough to notice. “That all had to go,” deadpans Sylvia.
Just as much care now goes into what enters the building in terms of product. “If it’s in the store, it’s passed some serious criteria,” she says. “I’m really organic. Just because it’s safe today doesn’t mean it’s going to be safe in five years.”
Lines include products made from bamboo such as Kickee Pants – “they’re so soft,” says Sylvia – and all-natural rubber, such as the French line Sophie the Giraffe. She supports local, as well, with Biter Beads “chewlry” made by a Chico mom needing safe items that her son who has autism could chew on.
As the winter holidays come around, Sylvia looks forward to keeping up her eye-catching window displays for a new group of shoppers who will flock to Main Street for celebratory gift-giving.
“When I was little, probably middle school or high school, I thought that I wanted to be someone who decorated windows. And now that I’m doing it, oh man, it’s a lot of work,” she laughs.
It’s an effort that’s well appreciated on Main Street, however, not only by her neighbors, but by customers wanting to create the same memories for their own children and grandchildren that Sylvia holds so dear from her childhood.
Dandy Lions • 623 Main Street, Red Bluff • (530) 527-7755