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Local Doll Store Relying on Niche Market to Thrive

Eleanor and Wendy McGhee, well-educated in the art of doll collecting, have opened Dolls, Bears & Gifts in The Shoppes at Cinnaminson.

Starting a business can be a chancy endeavor. But opening one selling dolls and accessories can be daring in an economy that's still struggling. 

Along a row of storefronts in the increasingly established plaza, The Shoppes at Cinnaminson, Eleanor McGhee and her daughter Wendy McGhee, both of Beverly, have confidence their new store, Dolls, Teddy Bears & Gifts, will thrive among a small but loyal following of collectors, hobbyists and, of course, little girls.

At the McGhee’s store, shelves are lined with dolls bearing cherubic faces, pinched noses and bright eyes.  

“There is something about a doll’s face that draws you in, or reminds you of your childhood,” says Eleanor, 69, a woman wih a gentle voice, who became a doll aficionado after she learned how to make crocheted dolls during her childhood.

After she began selling her craft dolls, Eleanor opened her first Dolls, Teddy Bears & Gifts on High Street in Burlington, which she ran for three years until 2002. Perfecting her art, she then made bed dolls with wide skirts to display on pillows.

Eleanor says her artistry led her to make African American cloth dolls she would show at national doll conventions, and which she's now selling in her store, along with six-inch ornamental dolls, made from twisted craft paper, of angels, breast cancer figures or Holy Communion dolls. 

Besides the McGhee’s handmade dolls, Dolls, Teddy Bears & Gifts have commercially made dolls ranging from Native Americans by Golden Keepsakes to 18-inch Madame Alexander dolls.

Lifelike infant dolls by Adora and Lee Middleton are sold with baby clothes and frills. There are even Raggedy Ann and Andy, and an array of Precious Moments dolls, popular among collectors.

“We had one woman come in to show us her Precious Moments doll with a porcelain face. It must be from the 1960s,” says Eleanor.

Little girls will delight in the life-sized My Friend Huggles dolls, whose individual satin ribbons (on the doll’s back) come with a different character-building message. Consumer magazine Creative Child endorsed the inspirational series of soft-bodied dolls with one of its prestigious 2012 Top Toy of the Year (Doll Category) Awards last July.

The store also carries figurines, totes, jewelry and a large line of Greenleaf candles, sachets, oils and sprays. 

But according to Wendy, this season’s popular sale isn’t a doll, but the Gund peek-a-boo bears—of which they're currently sold out.

“They keep the little babies interested,” says Wendy.

To hear the ladies talk, where doll collections go—or grow—can be a problem for some of their customers.

“We had a woman call who has more than 200 dolls, and she wanted to know if we would help her resell them,” says Wendy. “We don’t really do that, but we might be able to help her find someone who does.”

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