Gretchen Miller is the owner of The Wild Child and mother of two, Devan and Olivia. Both of Gretchen's children were born prematurely and, as a result, she was always conscious of purchasing quality toys, games and activities; preferrably green and/or organic whenever possible. She realized early on that it was often difficult to find these types of products at many of the "big box" stores.
The goal of The Wild Child is to get kids unplugged and engaged in pretend play and interactive activities.
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Wild Child toy store opens on Vernon Avenue
Gretchen Miller (middle) holds the ceremonial scissors during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for her new toy store, Wild Child, 657 Vernon Ave., on Saturday, Oct. 31, in Glencoe. Hilary Anderson/22nd Century Media
Hilary Anderson, Staff Writer
2:27 pm CST November 2, 2015
Walking into Gretchen Miller’s The Wild Child toy store in Glencoe is like traveling through the looking glass into Wonderland. Turn in any direction and it brings one’s imagination to the surface and, perhaps, memories of long ago, too.
The toy store had its ribbon-cutting ceremony on Halloween, Saturday, Oct. 31, at 657 Vernon Ave.
The store features a unique selection of books, toys, dolls, clothes, stuffed animals, jewelry, artwork, crafts and science projects. Many of the items have connections to special toys in Germany and France.
“I wanted to select unique things for kids,” she said. “Quality is important to me as well.”
It is the dream come true for Miller. The concept actually began when her son, Devan, now 13, was born prematurely.
“Devan was two pounds, 15 ounces when he was born,” she said. “It was hard to find clothes that fit him. I discovered that French and Italian lines had sizes that fit his little body well.”
Five years later her husband, Matt, and she welcomed their daughter, Olivia, who also was born prematurely. She was bigger at four pounds, three ounces but still needed smaller-sized clothes for her.
As her children grew, so did the dream of owning a special toy store. Miller worked in a high-end toy store for a while, but it still didn’t have the uniqueness she wanted.
Miller looked back on her parents’ experiences of being business owners and decided to take the plunge into owning her own toy store.
“My mom and dad, Mary Jane and Richard Monhardt, were very good as business owners,” she said. “My dad is especially creative.”
To make the store more personal, she decorated the store with a lamp from her own childhood bedroom. There also is a vintage baby scale on one of the shelves proudly holding unique stuffed animals.
Some of them are “expressive” animals created by a friend who has an autistic child.
“These are being used as therapy animals [toys] at Lurie Children’s Hospital,” Miller said. “There’s Sleepy Cow and Scared Bunny among others. My friend designs them from cartoon animals. They are all made in the U.S.”
She has the Madame Alexander girl and baby dolls, once thought to be no longer available. There are storybooks with old-fashioned illustrations. A variety of Tooth Fairy toys are available as repositories for when a child’s first baby tooth falls out.
“It is a big deal with what to do with that first tooth,” Miller said.
Think Putty is available at Miller’s store for those, even adults, who find stress balls useful.
“You stretch it any way you want,” she said. “One of them will actually change colors while you’re using it.”
She has German Grimm toys and others from France, like Maileg’s Bunny and the Pea along with clothes for the character.
Uniquely colorful but practical sleeping bags are among the many interesting kid-friendly items at Miller’s store. There are metal models, crafts and science projects, too.
“Devan picked out each and every golf disc on the wall,” she said proudly. “He also found the skateboard with the mirror on it.”
There are costumes for make-believe beyond Halloween, Miller added.
“I want kids to be able to pretend again and not spend most of their time in front of a TV or video game,” she said.
There’s also an old-fashioned red fire engine in the window with ladders on it for anyone who wants to go back in time and remember when they rode one.
If that’s not enough to convince someone to visit Miller’s The Wild Child toy store, then they should go just to see the decorations, one of which is a wallpaper mural behind the counter that will open up anyone’s imagination and bring back memories.
“I’m so proud of her,” said husband Matt. “She did it all on her own. She found everything from the space to the financing, to the design and each and every toy or item in this store.”