Dollhouse Miniatures: A Child’s Toy & Adult Hobby

Topics: Small Business

When Debbie McManus was a little girl, she was always drawn to her grandmother’s dollhouse. She loved rearranging the rooms, taking the furniture and setting it up ten different ways. That dollhouse currently resides in her living room, and McManus is now the owner of her own dollhouse miniature store.

Started by her mother, for over 40 years Lynlott Miniatures & Dollhouse Junction has been a part of the Aspinwall community in Pittsburgh. McManus took over the business when her mom passed away.

An #AmTrustInsured Retail Store

“We have customers from 2 to 92,” McManus said. “It’s a children’s toy, but it’s also an adult hobby. We love seeing grandparents or parents come in with their kids and enjoying it together. Sometimes the moms come in with their daughter and it’s just as much for the mom as it is for the child.”

Children who received dollhouses from their mothers are now coming back for next-generation restoration. Restoration is a big part of the business, giving older dollhouses a fresh coat of paint, fixing the wiring in it, redecorating it.

“The old dollhouses are worth keeping – it’s the one thing you don’t throw away. You pass it on,” she said.

McManus recalls restoring a dollhouse for a woman whose grandfather had given it to her as a child. The grandfather since passed away and the woman was now restoring it. After the restoration was complete, McManus and her team lifted the dollhouse up and found a note underneath.

“There was a handwritten note on the bottom that said: ‘I meant to have this done in time for Christmas but Happy Valentine’s Day. Remember me always. Love Papa.’ And when the family saw that, they had never seen that before, they all cried, and it was just a really special treasure for them.”

McManus’ children grew up in her store – she had bassinets and walkers intermingled with the merchandise. Now they have careers in art, design and storytelling, something she attributes to the early exposure to the creativity associated with miniatures.

“There are so many ways to be creative with miniatures. It’s architecture, it’s design, it’s sculpting, it’s electricity, it’s floral design – you name it. If you’re doing it in real life, you can do it in miniatures, it’s just less expensive and a little easier.”

The Internet has had an impact on her business in more recent years. One of only 75 stores dedicated to dollhouse miniatures in North America, McManus said she does a lot of business online, but there’s something to be said for being able to see the product in the store.

“It’s a special treat when you can walk in and see and touch the merchandise. We say bring in a template, your room box or display and we’ll let you take the furniture out and rearrange it,” she said. “We’re passionate about that. We are committed to providing the hands-on experience of being able to walk in and play.”

To stay competitive with online retailers, McManus said they work very hard at creating unique products.

“We buy and sell estate miniatures you can’t find anywhere,” she said. “We have fair pricing every day and we have incredible customer service, so we’ve managed to stay in business.”

McManus said her job offers a lot of creativity and is never boring.

“They say if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life and I would say that absolutely applies to working here in the dollhouse store.”


Working with AmTrust

McManus said she’s been with Simpson & McCrady for a long time and has a great relationship with her agent, Bill Simpson.

“He’s the best; he makes a point of coming in here and just eyeballing everything to see if everything is the way it should be. Do I have more inventory that needs to be covered? Does everything look safe and protected? He does this several times a year, pops his head in to give us a check,” she said.

When Simpson & McCrady suggested AmTrust to McManus for her workers’ compensation insurance carrier, she trusted her agent's suggestion.

“I take it on faith that Bill has done his research and it’s the best choice for us. I don’t have time to do the homework. If Simpson & McCrady says AmTrust, then we’re good,” she said. “And sure enough, AmTrust has been absolutely wonderful for us. It’s been a great fit. They make it very easy to do business with them. We’re really busy, so we like it when people make it simple for us.”

She said she appreciates the comfort of having workers’ compensation insurance, knowing that retail stores have their own set of risks. McManus has several subcontractors that help with the restoration work as well as full-time and part-time shop employees.

“Because we do have a workbench in the back and we are using a lot of delicate tools like drills, saws and Exacto knives, and lifting heavy dollhouses, it’s comforting to know we have AmTrust to have our backs in case anything should happen,” she said.

Small Business Saturday

McManus describes Aspinwall as the epitome of a small community with beautiful shops, restaurants, the neighborhood drug store and other small businesses.

“We like to celebrate and bring attention to all the great unique small businesses in Aspinwall,” she said. “I can’t imagine a world where we didn’t have this type of town for people to walk through, run into their friends and find things they hadn’t thought of before.”

Year-round, McManus said she encourages customers to support small businesses, passing out coupon cards that thank them for shopping locally.

“When you have local stores, it keeps the money local,” she said. “When people come into my store, they are supporting me; they are supporting my employees. We then support the other businesses; we buy lunch, we go to the drug store. It keeps the money here. If you’re shopping online, it’s going to a different state.”

She said she loves having a small business and being part of the community. “We’ve been here so long, we know all of the other shop owners, we know the police, the bureau managers, the people who take care of the streets,” she said. “We cannot imagine Aspinwall not having a community of small businesses.”

On Small Business Saturday, McManus encourages people to make it a point to get out and visit your local community businesses.

“If you would imagine your local community without these shops, I think you would be really sad to see that those places were gone, and the jobs and tax revenue that goes along with it,” she said. “Make a point of helping them to continue to be there because they can’t be there without you.”

Retail is a Top Class for AmTrust’s Workers’ Compensation Insurance

Retail is a class that AmTrust writes frequently and has great expertise in covering. Common injuries in retail stores include repetitive motion injuries, falls, strains and cuts. AmTrust can help small business owners protect their employees and their business. Contact us today to learn more.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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