Written by Sarah Hickner
Photos by Callie Broaddus
On West Washington Street, just a few doors down from Middleburg Common Grounds, is an unusually PLAYful store. Even for an adult, a step inside feels like walking into a magical place.
A wall lined with books beckons young readers to take a seat on the bench and dive into a new tale. Wooden cars beg for little ones to zoom them around. A rideable toy horse stands proudly, greeting customers. Whimsical pendulum clocks ping back and forth on the wall behind the checkout counter. And, for the holiday season, adorable fabric animal ornaments adorn lit Christmas trees and colorful stockings hang in every corner of the shop.
Keep going, and customers will find a mini theater set, ready for whatever productions a kid can dream up, a book tree, a busyboard fire truck, a magna-tile build area, and a huge Lite-Brite!
More than just the quantity of toys, it’s their quality that adds to the appeal. Years ago Michelle McNaughton, owner of the PLAYroom, read an article explaining that when toys are aesthetically pleasing, adults are more likely to get involved with playtime. The retro wood kitchen and toy rotary phone sitting next to a display of eccentric fabric dolls proves that the article’s argument rings true.
One of McNaughton’s favorite things about her business is watching the families she serves grow. “We’ve only been here a year and a half,” she shares. “But even in that time, we had ladies come in who were expecting, and now their kids are a year old!”
In owning a toy store, McNaughton has become a toy expert. One thing she has learned is that kids don’t need a large collection. Instead, a handful of good toys is plenty because it encourages children to exercise their imagination more. Often people will hold up a toy and say, “What does this do?” She responds with a big smile and a twinkle in her eye: “Whatever you want it to!”
Most items in the store are made from wood, fabric, or paper. McNaughton works hard to provide products made of sustainable and natural materials. “When we do carry plastics we try to make sure they’re healthy plastics, so mostly food grade,” she says. McNaughton also loves to support small vendors and stock plenty of American-made toy options. “We want to have things you can’t get at the big box stores,” she says.
When asked about her favorite toys in the store, McNaughton made a beeline for a set of car tracks called “Way To Play Roads.” They are simple pieces of black silicone that can be pieced together to make a track for toy cars. Her face lights up as she talks about her son playing with them every day. “We play with them in the snow. We’ve made monster mud pits, and I just hosed them off when we were done. We brought them to the beach and played in the sand!”
McNaughton is undeniably passionate about play. She dreams of her store being a place for people in the community to read, play, and imagine. “Our goal is really to be a part of the community. We’ll have folks come in on a Wednesday and read and play for thirty minutes. We want to be a resource for those families to come in and think of new things they haven’t seen before…and think about play a little differently than just ‘how do I entertain my kid?’”
With the holidays around the corner, McNaughton shares her advice for gift buying.
“The key to buying a gift for someone is your own excitement about it,” McNaughton explains. “If you’re not excited about it, I say just put it back. Then get the item that excites you.” If you are still on the fence, give the staff the chance to do what makes them come alive — helping you choose the perfect gifts for the kids in your life. You won’t be disappointed and neither will your child. ML
The PLAYroom is located at 108 West Washington Street in Middleburg, Virginia. Hours are Monday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This article first appeared in the December 2022 issue.