Parker couple opens educational toy shop

Hands-on store features fun ways to learn

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The nation’s largest educational toy seller, Learning Express Toys, threw open its doors to imagination and playtime in Highlands Ranch this weekend — just in time for the holiday shopping season.

The 130th location in the country — and second in Colorado, joining Fort Collins — the franchise is run by Parker residents Les and Heather Crosby.

“My dream has always been to do something with kids that would impact them somehow,” said Heather, a mother of three and former elementary school teacher. “With my teaching experience, combined with Les’ business experience (as a financial analyst) this just seemed like the perfect fit.”

In addition to selling toys, the couple plans to host regular community events at the store, conduct fundraisers for area nonprofits and schools, and already has plans for a local Girl Scout troop to come in and earn their “Women in Business” badges.

The community element is a big part of the Learning Express model. The company’s first store opened in Massachusetts in 1987 as a nonprofit that helped to raise money for a struggling school in the community.

Like the other Learning Express locations across the country, the Highlands Ranch store offers free year-round gift-wrapping and complimentary personalization of select toys, such as Plasma Cars — one of the hottest items on the shelves. And the franchise prides itself on having a unique selection that includes traditional toys that have been around for years as well as all the newest brands on the market.

Rainbow Loom classes are taught daily at the store, and all employees are familiar with how to make the popular bracelets as well as what makes each toy unique.

“Probably five or six hours of the 12-hour training we put new employees through involves playing with all of the toys,” said Linda Peebles, Learning Express vice president of training, who flew in for the opening. “We take product knowledge very seriously here and we encourage all employees to get involved, demonstrate toys, open them up and play with them with the guests. The goal is to be hands-on.”

Hands-on doesn’t stop at demonstrations either, as kids accompanying parents on shopping trips can sit right down and play with one of the numerous items out on the floor, from drawing at an activity table to engineering Thomas the Train toys, enjoying Calico Critters, a game of Spot It! or playing kitchen on a Melissa and Doug stove.

And there isn’t a toy in the store that doesn’t keep the kids thinking.

“There’s something educational about almost every item in the store,” said Peebles, adding that toys are geared for every age from infant to tween. “Whether it is teaching motor skills, hand-eye coordination, cognitive skills or imaginative play, it’s all fun.”

For more information, call 720-344-3448, visit www.learningexpress.com or search “Learning Express Toys of Highlands Ranch” on Facebook. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays at 9579 S. University Blvd.

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