Thanks to the Chattanooga Times Free Press for including us - and Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty - in their Back to School 2017 issue! We sell a ton of Thinking Putty in a variety of styles and properties. Great for contemplative play, or true fidgeting relief within the distractions of a fidget spinner.
My family and I got an early start on Small Business Saturday yesterday. But not in a way we wanted. Our home had a carbon monoxide leak at 5:09 am Saturday morning due to a hole in our heating system's heat exchanger. A system that was less than 10 years old.
We fortunately had installed "smart" smoke/carbon monoxide alarms this summer after purchasing the house. And they worked as advertised. We were awoken by alarm and phone call, and were out of the house before the CO reached dangerous levels.
But not all carbon monoxide leaks get detected in time.
Yesterday, unfortunately, was not my first brush with the dangers of carbon monoxide. It was, however, my first where a carbon monoxide detector was present. And based on what happened to my parents and siblings in the past, I very much believe the detectors may have saved a couple of lives this weekend.
* * * *
Nearly 15 years ago, my father died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
He was spending a cold night at his and my mom’s small lake house in northern New York, a camp they seldom used during the winter months. This was the first time he was visiting the lake house and the propane fuel heater that winter. Unbeknownst to my father, the propane fuel company had not properly cleaned the heater months earlier.
Less than a week after my father's death, my immediate family gathered at that same lake house to plan my father’s funeral. Temperatures were below freezing, so we had the propane heater on high.
Because of an autopsy that had incorrectly determined my father died of a heart attack, we spent 4-5 hours unknowingly breathing in CO in a very confined space as we planned his wake and funeral. A few visitors popped in to say hi and express their condolences during that time which did provide occasional air flow when the door opened, but not much. By the time we were done, we all had headaches which we attributed to the stress of making such plans.
My brother and I then left to spend the night in town 20 minutes away. I remember having trouble focusing on the road as I drove. But it was late, I felt stressed out, and thought nothing more of it. My mother, sister and her boyfriend stayed behind to spend the night at the lake house.
I fell asleep quickly that night, but a couple of hours later I was awoken by a call.
It was my sister, who sounded confused and disoriented. She managed to tell me she couldn’t walk but had crawled into my mother’s room to see how she was feeling, but my mother was refusing to get out of bed. My sister's boyfriend was acting similar. “I don’t know if we all have food poisoning or maybe it’s carbon monoxide?” she said.
I told her to open any windows she could reach and the main door and called a family friend/doctor. He immediately told me to call 911. I did, then called my sister back and kept her on the phone until paramedics arrived.
The three spent a few hours at the hospital, and then were discharged. Probably a little prematurely given their high intake of carbon monoxide. But hey, we had my father’s wake to attend.
I can’t properly express to you how it feels to be standing at the front of a church for your father’s calling hours, and feeling grateful. Grateful that my brother and I were only mourning the loss of my father, and not that of my mother, sister and her boyfriend (now husband) who were all bravely standing next to us, receiving words of both sorrow for the passing of my father, and hugs for surviving the night. Besides a brief hour break between sessions, this went on for nearly 6 hours.
I haven’t thought about that week for some time. Until yesterday, when I was awoken by another early morning call of the same nature.
This time, it was my family’s smoke/carbon monoxide alarm system calling to alert me that CO had been detected in the house. Alarms were blaring in our home, too, but the call let me know immediately the culprit was carbon monoxide and not smoke. I opened the IRIS app on my phone and saw that the alarm detecting CO was in the bedroom of my daughter, Quinn.
I immediately turned off our thermostat, my wife called the fire department and put the girls and our dog in our car with warm blankets and jackets. Within seconds of entering the home, a fireman had his CO detector go off. Right outside the hallway of Quinn's room.
This wasn’t a case of dead batteries or a false alarm. We had a carbon monoxide leak. And I was experiencing déjà vu.
Turns out, the heat exchanger in our heating system had a hole in it. We bought the home this summer, but the heat had not been on for any prolonged period prior to Saturday morning. Specifically, between 3:30-5:00am. That’s when my eldest daughter awoke me to say the downstairs of the house was freezing cold. I had turned off the thermostat the previous afternoon when we were leaving for the remainder of the day, and had forgotten to turn it back on. So I went downstairs and did so. We all fell back asleep.
With the heating system working to catch up to a "normal" temperature, in less than two hours the CO level had climbed to 50 ppm. We weren’t scheduled to awake for the day for at least another two hours. What that might have resulted in we will never know.
My wife, Joanna, had suggested to me after buying the home this summer that we install “smart” alarms throughout the house that were equipped with both smoke and CO detection, and could be connected to our WiFi router to alert us to which area of the house to focus on (should we be on vacation, out on date night, etc.).
So I'm declaring today Carbon Monoxide Detector Sunday. Between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, please carve out some time to go buy a CO detector for your home. And if you already have one, take a minute to test it.
It doesn’t have to be a “smart” alarm. Just get one. More than one depending on the size of your house. (This is what we have, but get what works best for you.)
We actually have SEVEN alarms, which I told Joanna (while I was setting each one up individually to our wifi) was maybe overdoing it relative to the size of our house. But after the past 24 hours, you’ll never hear me make that argument again.
Every year at this time, out they come. Promotions from our competitors for "Christmas in July" sales. They tend to be 20% off store-wide, sometimes a special 30% off a single item discounts.
We can't fault anyone for running a summer sale. It's great for cash flow at a time when it may be a little quiet in a toy store. Sales events can also help get rid of old inventory that hasn't been flying off of shelves. In theory, anyway. But it seems to us that running a storewide sale means it's likely the popular items you've been selling like hotcakes will continue to sell like hotcakes - just for less money. And the lackluster items that weren't selling before won't be selling now, even at a discount.
Which is why stores that run July store-wide sales don't tend to introduce new toys in July. It's another chance for your kids to get the same toys they didn't get last December. (They're going to be so excited.)
We don't run Christmas in July sales. Because we're not waist deep in inventory that didn't sell. In fact, we've spent the past three weeks adding MORE toys to our shelves. And it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in here.
So with that said... today, July 1st, we introduce a new toy that you won't find in any other store in Tennessee. (Or for all we know, Alabama or Georgia.) And you won't find it on Amazon, either.
It's a remote control vehicle. But the remote is your smartphone or tablet. And you can actually program the vehicle to move in a pattern you choose. (If you're a parent with a child who is interested in programming - think Scratch meets R/C.) And because the car is powered by an app, the company releases new versions of its software that adds new abilities to your child's toy - without it costing you another dime.
Did we mention you can add Lego, MegaBlox or Brictek pieces to it? Or that it's been a hit at Maker Fairs in the midwest? This thing epitomizes what it means to be a STEM toy.
Now, these bots are not cheap. $60 a pop. Which means we know we're going to hear this in our store for the next four months, "That would be a GREAT Christmas gift, we'll need to remember it."
Only it's not. It's a great gift right now.
In the summer.
When kids are out playing with other kids, having play-dates, enjoying childhood.
At a time when kids are most open to learning, experimenting with science, technology, engineering and math. Figuring things out together with friends. Or alone in their playroom. All the while gaining knowledge and shaping their interests. Without once hearing the phrase Common Core.
Just good ol' fashioned summer play.
It's Christmas in July, alright. We've awakened Santa out of slumber. Not to discount old toys. (That only makes him angry.) But to bring you brand new ones. Because when it comes to playing with awesome toys, summer is the most wonderful time of the year.
Oh, and sorry about the lack of sales. We'd sure it's a blast having a Christmas in July sales event. We just don't have enough toys leftover from Christmas.
My wife and I have owned Mountain Top Toys for three years now. We recently celebrated like so:
Me: Hey, today marks three years since we became owners of Mountain Top Toys.
Joanna: Oh yeah? Are you going to do anything special?
Me: I may go dish myself up some ice cream.
Our excitement for celebrating store anniversaries may have waned a bit, but one thing that still gets me fired up this time of year is the Chattanooga Times Free Press and their "Best of the Best" categories.
This is an annual PR event for the paper, and voting is open to the public starting on May 1st and running through either July 1st or July 5th - depending on whether you choose to believe the Times Free Press newspaper or its website.
But here's the truly impressive part of Best of the Best - you can vote in 180 categories. That means 180 happy winners come September, along with 1-2 very pleased Honorary Mentions per category. A good way to honor local businesses. And not a bad way to sell some advertising.
Still, though... that's a lot of categories. And with that many categories, here's how precise some of the list becomes:
You can vote on the best "Meat and 3" dining.
Or best "place to throw darts."
Best mattress store? Yes.
Best divorce lawyer? Um, yeah. (Was "Best Lawyer" too broad a category?)
But that's just the start of "The Niche List" - you can vote for the Best RV Dealer, Best Emergency Room, Best Funeral Home, even Best Locksmith. Best locksmith.
The specificity doesn't stop there, though - you can voice your opinion on Best Floor Covering Store, Best Place to Have a Baby (I'm voting for "A bed"), and yes, Best Internet Service Provider.
Did we mention there are six categories dedicated for "Spirits"? Including "Best Place to Have a Cold Beer", which is not to be confused with "Best Place to Buy Beer." The latter, it's presumed, should be voted upon by the merits of an establishment's decor, prices, and staff demeanor, and not the ease by which beer may be procured by under-age citizens. (After all, young people don't read newspapers.)
So with 180 categories in total - did we say you can vote for Best Locksmith? - what business category could possibly NOT have made the list?
Oh. Right. Best Toy Store.
In an area of Tennessee that includes a Toys R Us, Babies R Us, Learning Express, Green Door Toys, and one of only seven independent non-franchised specialty toy stores left in the state (us!), Best Toy Store didn't make the cut in the Times Free Press. Again. For the however-many-years-this-people's-choice-award-competition-has-been-in-existence.
Alter the category name slightly to "Best Place to Buy a Toy" and you could expand the nominee list to Target, Walmart, Kohl's, Belk, Barnes & Noble, convenience stores, nurseries, pharmacies, any tourist destination, hobby and craft stores, gas stations, the Aquarium, IMAX Theater, Creative Discovery Museum, Chattanooga Zoo, hospital gift shops, AT&T Park and creepy dudes wheeling around carts at summer festivals and county fairs.
Suddenly, this becomes the most hotly contested category not included on Best of the Best.
Now I know there will be a debate regarding how adding this category could take attention away from other popular categories, like the dozens of options for Best Bicycle Shop. Or Best Medical Supply Store.
And sure, there are no less than five Best Clothing categories broken out into children's, men's, women's, shoe and consignment, but that's fair because we all buy clothes right here in Chattanooga. But toys? Apparently the TFP is saying there's no need to buy local when Amazon Prime is just $100 and a click away.
Best Place to Have a Birthday Party? Yes, there's a category for that.
Best place to buy toys for a birthday party? Send in the drones.
Of course, we did give some thought and consideration to the fact that these narrow categories include nominees that are already heavy advertisers in the paper. How else does one explain asking the general public to vote for Best Mortgage Lender? (Answer: whichever one has the lowest rate on the day you need a mortgage.) Or, Best Hearing Aid Center. (You heard me correctly.)
Now, those businesses and those categories have every right to be included. But so do we.
It's a tough pill to swallow when something as fun, light, nostalgic and smile-producing as a toy store gets left off a Best of the Best category list - and Best Vape Shop makes it.
If we sound bitter, we are... kinda'. Look, while we like to claim that Learning Express is our biggest competition, that Toys R Us feels like the least fun place to purchase toys, and that Walmart is crushing the little guy, the reality is... well, those are all true. BUT regardless, we would love to have some fun campaigning for the write-in* vote against those and other brick-and-mortar toy-centric stores. It would be good theater, and raise awareness for all of us in the category. And we say this knowing full well we'd never win this category. Or get Honorable Mention. Or second runner-up.
We love being the underdog. But we've yet to see an underdog win a competition that doesn't include the underdog's category. Just as it is with the Oscars and its many categories, it would simply be enough to just be considered. Even if that meant pushing the category list to 181.
* While a Best of the Best newspaper vote is write-in only, the TFP website offers voters a selection of what we assume are editorial choices in each category. Worth noting - no Signal Mountain business is included in any category. Despite the fact the TFP does accept money for advertising from our businesses. Including Mountain Top Toys. Look for our ads in November and December. We're gunning for next year' s Best of the Best Print Ads.
2/28 UPDATE: The Burger Cafe has been sold and has a friendly home in Pennsylvania. Anyone interested in purchasing a Calico Critters Bakery at the pre-retired price of $24.99 (plus shipping), do reach out.
I often tell kids that there's hidden treasure everywhere, you just need to know how to spot it.
This past weekend, I did a quick online price check to see what the Calico Critters Burger Cafe was selling for as a retired item. Had it gone up in value? Dropped? Wasn't affected? I wanted to make sure we were offering the only one we have left at a fair price ($59.99) in the event it had dropped.
It had NOT dropped. Retirement is good.
In fact, at the time there was only one left on Amazon. Its price? $239.99. (86% 5-star reviews.) On eBay, the price wasn't quite as high. You could get one, slightly used (just some nicks on the packaging) for $188.92.
Two days later, I went back and checked again - the one that had been available on Amazon was sold. Same for the one on eBay, although there were two others available - each at a reasonable price, but both used. One is missing pieces.
After doing a final online search last night, I found a new one available on a different site - for $244.99.
All that said, we have one Calico Critters Burger Cafe left at Mountain Top Toys. For $59.99.
It was a complete fluke. My daughter, Quinn, was watching a classic TV show with me that I'd introduced to her months ago. Watching it, suddenly it clicked. I knew who Supreme Leader Snoke from Star Wars: The Force Awakens really is!
No, not Darth Vader or Kylo Ren from the future. Not Darth Plageuis, either. Something even more unbelievable.
First - a short clip with audio of Snoke as a refresher... then the reveal, below.
Okay, so who is (or was) Snoke, where did he come from, what did he do before becoming the Supreme Leader?
Don't click this link unless you really want to know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1j7lyRnxVE
Patrick Holland, born in a Cabbage Patch and raised inside the Honeycomb Hideout, is a former Oompa Loompa. He is now co-owner of Mountain Top Toys (with his not-so-silent partner and wife, Joanna), and parent to two daughters, both of whom are beginning to realize their father is just plain nuts. .