After 31 years working as an auto mechanic, Kurt Richter knew he needed a change.
“After time your body kind of tells you, you know, it’s time to find something different to work on, and not as physical on you,” he said.
Mr. Richter began looking for something new and eventually heard about a special opportunity from his brother-in-law, who owns California Hobbies in the Magnolia Shopping Center in Goleta. Vernon Moore, the owner of Bennett’s Toys and Educational Materials, was looking to sell.
Bennett’s, originally owned by Sally Bennett, has served the Goleta and Santa Barbara community for almost 51 years providing toys, science kits, and books to children up to 14 and educational workbooks, classroom decorations, flashcards, and more to local teachers and homeschooling parents.
Mr. Moore partnered with Mrs. Bennett in the mid-1970s, said Mr. Richter. After moving around over the years, Bennett’s settled into a location in the Magnolia Center and Mr. Moore ended up owning the store.
Mr. Moore was responsible for the “toys” in Toys and Educational Materials playing a larger role. Educational materials sold well leading up to and during the school year, but Bennett’s needed something to supplement the business the rest of the year, and so Mr. Vernon started to bring in more children’s books and toys. Today the store has its toys front and center, although education remains a major element of Bennett’s inventory.
Even though he could no longer run the store, Mr. Moore wanted Bennett’s to live on.
“We heard about it and talked to him. He was willing to negotiate. He just wanted the store to keep going. He said the only problem is you won’t be able to stay in this space, because it’s been leased to someone else,” said Mr. Richter.
The Richters wished they could stay in Mr. Moore’s location, but they found a good space that fit their inventory at 5148 Hollister Ave., right down the Magnolia Center parking lot.
Mr. Richter bought Bennett’s in September 2017 and had to leave the old location by Oct. 1, but he and his wife managed to quickly pack up the inventory, lay down flooring, and put in all the shelving in time for the move.
Mr. Vernon stayed to help for the first few months, as the business of toys was new for the Richters. He taught Mr. Richter how he did ordering, introduced Mr. Richter to some of his “reps,” and would call accounts to have them changed over.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that, because it was a huge step for us to do,” said Mr. Richter.
Now Mr. Richter runs Bennett’s seven days a week with his wife Lisa, with occasional help from their two young daughters.
“It’s been an adventure, said Mr. Richter. “Every day is a learning experience for us, and I don’t think you stop learning on something like this.”
Although even super stores don’t have every toy on the market, Mr. Richter has made Bennett’s a one-stop shop for unique toys and materials that are not only a blast for kids but are also highly educational and engaging.
“I have a few things, but I have a whole variety and assortment of those things,” he said.
Customers can find classic toys like Legos, Playmobils, and train sets, and all the outdoor toys that have stood the test of time, like hula hoops, stomp-rockets, and wiffle ball sets. Alongside well known brands like Melissa And Doug are a range of educational interactive toys. Kids can start with a simple with a marble maze set and work their way through science kits up to the robots, a favorite of Mr. Richter’s.
“As a mechanic, that’s what you’re into, you know? You want to take things apart and figure out what’s going on with it and why is it doing it,” said Mr. Richter.
Bennett’s has a great selection of board games and puzzles, and while there are plenty of beginner options, the older kids tend to love the 3D puzzles and games like Risk, Upwords and Labyrinth.
Mrs. Richter handles the book section, and makes sure that it’s well stocked with classics like “Goodnight Moon,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and “The Giving Tree,” along with the latest hits.
Over the years, teachers supplies have taken more of a back seat, but you can still find posters, flashcards, workbooks, and decorations that will blast you right back to your elementary school days. The store has everything you need for a complete class room that will have students engaged, excited and entertained.
Bennett’s even has play areas in the front of the store where kids can try out train sets and doll houses for themselves as their parents shop.
The venture has been a challenge for the Richters, especially with the new Target location in Goleta affecting holiday sales this year, but generations of customers have remained loyal to the local shop. With all the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents visiting the store, Mr. Richter will occasionally see three generations shopping for the latest addition to the family together.
“They’re the ones who are just hardcore. ‘We just buy from you,’ you know? That’s what puts a smile on your face every day. It’s those people,” said Mr. Richter.
When Bennett’s doesn’t have a specific book or toy, Mr. Richter is more than happy to recommend local toy stores in Santa Barbara and Montecito or send them along to Chaucer’s Books as he believes mom-and-pop stores need to stick together.
“I just hope everyone else is doing good, because it doesn’t look good going downtown. There’s a lot of empty storefronts there,” said Mr. Richter.
If you’re looking for a great children’s christmas gift, complete with complimentary gift wrap, stop by Bennett’s or visit bennettstoys.com to learn more about the store.