INSPIRING WONDER

BY ELIZABETH PANDOLFI

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Whether you’re an experienced parent of four or someone who has to buy the occasional birthday present for a friend’s kid, chances are you’ve been in a Wonder Works toy store.

Established 25 years ago by Christine Osborne and her late business partner, Dan Morrisey, Wonder Works has grown from a small nature- and science-focused toy store into an award-winning specialty toy store with four Lowcountry locations plus an online store.

“Wonder Workers truly are toy experts,” Osborne says. “Whatever you need, you can rely on us to be here with the perfect toy for any age—a toy that will create fun for you and your family for years to come.” Their mission, she says, is to “make magic happen.”

Wonder Works is a trendsetter in the toy industry, always carrying the hottest toys of the season. Topping the list of must-haves this year is the Swurfer, a versatile wooden swing. You can either sit on it and swing the normal way, or you can stand on it and “surf” in wide arcs. Invented, produced and distributed in Charleston by The ROB Company, the Swurfer was named the 2015 Best Toy for Kids in Active Play by the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association (ASTRA).

Other hot toys carried by Wonder Works include collectible fruit, veggie and animal figurines by Shopkins and Ugglys; Odyssey’s Quadcopter drone with its built-in video camera; and the BeanBoozled game by Jelly Belly, where losers draw icky flavors such as “stinky socks.”

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Christine Osborne and her staff take great care to build relationships with inventors like Rob Bertschy, who brought them the Swurfer in February of last year. Offering feedback on new products is a hallmark of Wonder Works’ business ethos, and Osborne says it’s a vital part of keeping the toy industry alive. “The community is very involved in developing toys whether they know it or not,” she says.

But an amazing toy selection is far from the only reason Wonder Works is so loved, not only in Charleston but across the nation. (In 2013, the store was named one of ASTRA’s best toy retailers in the country.) Wonder Works also offers full-service birthday parties; Birthday Bins, a kind of kids’ birthday registry; and classes, including the Create It, Make It, Take It series that teaches cognitive skills through a craft or science project.

And behind it all is something much bigger than toys. In addition to being a sought-after toy expert, Osborne is one of the most passionate and generous business people you’ll ever meet. At the heart of the business are events that celebrate the joy that toys bring and provide a platform for children to pursue their own passions.

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One example is the store’s Elfstravaganza holiday event, to be held at the Mount Pleasant location on November 14. Thousands of children and families come to partake in this free, annual event that kicks off the holiday season.

Wonder Works will have the hottest toys, holiday activities, treats and guest appearances from national toy companies as well as the event’s beloved mascot, Elfie.

The event raises money for local charities and offers children an opportunity to sell their own products, raise money for their own charities and even entertain the crowd.

A similar idea is behind one of the company’s current fundraising initiatives, Yes We Can Can. Children are invited to use an empty can to collect change from their friends, family or neighbors. When it’s full, they bring it back to Wonder Works to be donated to fundraising efforts for the new MUSC Children’s Hospital.

“Children raised here have philanthropic hearts,” Osborne says. “A dime at a time from every child? That’s huge in terms of dollars. But more than that, they’re learning about initiatives, raising money, philanthropy and entrepreneurship. This is what we’re all about.”

Elizabeth Pandolfi is a writer living in Charleston.