A recent addition to Charles Street’s retail landscape, Barnaby’s Toy & Art offers a hand-on, interactive experience for kids through a wide range of art offerings, along with a selection of handpicked toys and children’s books, including a series of titles authored by the shop’s proprietor.
The store opened about three weeks ago at 15R Charles St. in the space formerly occupied by Rainbows Pottery Studio in response to the success of the business’s first location, which owner Wendy Rouillard opened on Nantucket in May of 2021. (At around 450 square feet, the Charles Street location is less than half the size of the 1,100 square-foot Nantucket store.)
Barnaby’s joins two other Charles Street businesses, J. McLaughlin and Follain (now Credo Beauty), which both got their start on Nantucket before opening their respective second outposts on Beacon Hill, and Rouillard attributes the decision to expand her business from Nantucket to Beacon Hill to the Boston neighborhood’s tight-knit sensibility.
Rouillard, who has lived on Nantucket for 30 years and also writes a column for Nantucket Magazine called Kid ‘N Around, noted that Beacon Hill and Nantucket both have a “very similar feel” defined by a strong sense of community.
She said her decision to open the first location of Barnaby’s more than two and a half years ago on Nantucket came partially in response to the closure in 2019 of The Toy Boat, the island’s longstanding toy store.
Rouillard then spent an entire year refining her business plan for Barnaby’s.
“The store really developed from a need for kids on Nantucket to have a place to create all different kinds of art,” Rouillard said of Barnaby’s while adding that the business is representative of her skillset and wide range of interests, including her art background.
Rouillard wrote and illustrated the first in her series of stories that follow the adventures of Barnaby Bear around Nantucket in 1994 as her senior thesis while attending the New School’s Parsons School of Design in New York City. Since then, her Barnaby series has expended to include more than 25 titles, which are available for sale at both Barnaby’s locations (as well as at other retailers and bookstores and via Amazon).
While Rouillard now splits her time between her Nantucket and Beacon Hill stores, the Charles Street location is also staffed by store manager and head teacher Charlotte Willauer, a Wellesley native and BU grad who worked at the Nantucket store over the summer, as well as teaching assistant Lexi Holly.
Barnaby’s on Beacon Hill currently offers around 45 different art-based classes for children ages 2 to 12, with new classes being offered each week. The classes run about two or three times each weekday, including 9:30 a.m. classes for preschoolers and afterschool programming at 4:30 p.m. Two or three classes are offered on Saturdays and Sundays, respectively, as well.
The business also offers personalized birthday parties either in store, or at children’s homes or any other outside venue. For these events, Rouillard speaks to parents beforehand to get an idea of the child’s interests and then creates a custom art experience for them. And these events are already proving popular at the Beacon Hill store, which hosted two birthday parties just last week, said Rouillard.
Kids can even drop by the store without a reservation on a rainy weekend day or a school holiday to create their own individualized art projects.
Customers can pick and buy items a la carte from one of six bookcases designed to look like Nantucket “beach shacks.” Each one has its own separate theme, including beading and jewelry; make and decorate your own handbag, fanny-pack, or ornamental pouch; art supplies (i.e. paints and markers): a variety of Boston-themed, different-shaped “wood slices,” each measuring around 12 by 12 inches, to be painted and decorated; miniature fairy houses, which can be painted and outfitted with to-scale furniture replicas; and the “Lab Shack,” where kids can customize their own “Slime” using various additives, or make their own Play-Doh.
Barnaby’s also offers a curated selection of toys personally selected by Rouillard, including building and art kits, as well toys for babies and toddlers. “Every toy has a function or it’s interactive. [The toys] are all really handpicked to engage and entertain,” she said.
The Charles Street store also feature a “Kids Loft,” replete with candy and other confections, along with small toys and other gift items for children.
“My store is very community oriented, and my goal is to offer a great place in the community for kids with a warm and fun environment where they can feel comfortable exploring and creating,” said Rouillard, who added that she’s planning a holiday party at the Charles Street store to introduce the business to the neighborhood.
Barnaby’s Toy & Art at 15R Charles St. is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.barnabysboston.com or call 508-680-1553.