ANN ARBOR, MI — Amber Bowman didn’t realize she’d be prompted to open her own toy store when she started looking into new toys for her daughter.
Bowman, 38, is founder and owner of Prism Playgoods, an Ann Arbor toy store aimed at providing open-ended, wooden toys – toys that don’t have a specific function and can be played with in a variety of ways.
Bowman found open-ended toys after the birth of her youngest, 14-month-old Lively. She said she wanted to be intentional with the toys she bought for her children.
Bowman, a former elementary school music teacher, said she got the idea after watching her two children, Lively and Sawyer — born 10 years apart — play with the same toys in different ways.
“Literally every item I was bringing in for her, Sawyer was obsessed with,” Bowman said.
Bowman went on maternity leave just as schools began to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, but eventually quit her job. She launched Prism Playgoods on March 29, roughly a year after the birth of her youngest child.
Bowman said she’s always had child-centered jobs, so opening a toy store was “a natural reach” for her.
Prism Playgoods carries a variety of wooden, soft and sensory toys, as well as arts and crafts supplies.
“I wanted her to sell LEGOz, also,” 11-year-old Sawyer said.
While there are no LEGOs, Prism Playgoods does carry “specific toys in the shop that were Sawyer picks,” such as a series of plastic dragons, Bowman said.
Bowman’s partner, 33-year-old Ellen Williams, said she was motivated to open the store after seeing Bowman’s reaction to finding new toys.
“I could see how excited and passionate Amber was about the toys,” Williams said.
Although Bowman runs the content and creative side of the store, Williams put together the website and serves as technical support and delivery person for the Ann Arbor area.
“Totally, completely my brainchild, but I couldn’t have done it without Ellen’s help,” Bowman said. “She’s my super support.”
In addition to providing open-ended toys, Prism Playgoods is also dedicated to carrying inclusive toys, such as dolls in a variety of skin tones.
“We want the toys that we carry to look like our world,” Bowman said.
Bowman also appreciates the beauty of the wooden toys, saying “they don’t look like typical kid clutter.”
Liisa Lusk, mother of three, said she likes that the toys are “carefully curated.”
“It’s on the opposite end of the spectrum of an unboxing toy,” Lusk said.
Lusk bought her children, ages 5, 9 and 11, each a set of the Big Little Pocket Pals crafting kit.
“Not only was the end result a charming and cute little stuffy, but they made it themselves,” Lusk said.
There has been a learning curve to opening a toy store, Bowman said. She had originally wanted to price her products — which range from $5.50 to $178 — at a more competitive price but found she was limited by manufacturer requirements.
Bowman and Williams hope Prism Playgoods, named as a nod to their LGBTQ family, can grow to fill a gap left by the closure of Learning Express, a toy store previously in Ann Arbor’s Westgate Shopping Center.
“We love the idea of being tied into the community,” Williams said.
Prism Playgoods is currently only available online. Find the website here.
Read more from The Ann Arbor News: