Deni, Tucker and Hannah Van Winkle want to do something about the economy. It's not enough to just worry - and kids worry about such things - they want to help folks get through the tough times. So, the trio, ages 11, 9 and 8 respectively, decided to open the Toy and Gift Exchange in the Mountain Air Café Mall in Joseph and offer gifts for $5 or less - with 99 percent of the gifts priced at one dollar, "so that kids could afford to shop," they said. In fact, they are so dedicated to making it affordable, that they have decided to take canned food items as payment. All of their profits, along with the canned food items, will be donated to the food bank.
They got the idea for the shop partly from another food drive, said Deni Van Winkle, 11. "We did a food-drive 'birthday bag' at the restaurant and it kind of helped with this idea," he said.
But the primary motivation sprang from conversations the children overheard about the economy at the restaurant, at home and at school.
"Deni has really been concerned about the economy and how we were all going to make it through the down economy," said Shellea Van Winkle, the children's mother and co-owner of Mountain Air Café and Mall along with husband, Bob. "Their shop has grown from that concern of how we can help kids get through this. It's pretty scary for kids."
What the Van Winkle kids are doing is exactly what economists tell adults to do in a down economy - get creative, go to work for yourself, provide a service.
In fact, the Van Winkle kids have been brainstorming how to go into business for three years, Shellea said, and their business sense was pretty astonishing from the start.
"The first idea they came to me with -the Candy Store had a business plan," she said. "They had a diagram of the store they wanted to operate, a schedule of who would work and what days - they had it pretty well thought out."
Other ideas the kids kicked around included a trading card store and a pet store.
The Toy and Gift Exchange, however, was not just the most plausible idea - it best fit their desire to help their 'kid community' in a tough economy.
The shop will open at 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. November 27 to 29 and the two following weekends - or till all the goods are gone.
Goods have been purchased at garage sales over the summer, or donated by folks who heard about the project and wanted to support it. There are two 'bouncy horses' for just $5 each, handmade glass bead necklaces for just $1, home decorations, a few select Christmas decorations, Indian Motorcycle-themed T-shirts, and a tiara - just to name a few items.
Although the shop is designed to give kids the opportunity to shop for gifts for parents, grandparents and teachers, several adults have their eye on that tiara, Shellea. "I've had several adults who have done pre-shopping at the window and several ladies want that crown," she said. "I may take the highest bidder on that."
Many folks who have checked out the shop have donated items for the biz kids to sell. Donations are welcomed. If you have toys or gift items in excellent condition you would like to donate, they can be dropped off at Mountain Air Café from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. any day but Friday.
Although their mother donates the rent of the shop, and Judy Kinsley at WC Market and others have donated stock, the children are responsible for paying for advertising, and the cost of purchased stock.
"This is about learning," said Shellea. "We're taking about art and advertising, representing the shop, pricing and money management."
The boys have got advertising pretty well figured out. "One of our advertising idea was to put out flyers at school," said Dani.
"I just told two people at school," said Tucker.
"Give it five minutes," replied Dani, "and the whole school will be talking."