By Sara Scheeres and Sara Valle-Martínez. Photos by Sara Scheeres
When you walk into the Sylvanian Families store in Finsbury Park, it feels like a coming-of-age film, right when you get to the scene where there’s a flashback to the main character’s childhood.
Everything has a sepia filter and when the protagonist looks down, they realise they’re no longer wearing formal shoes, but their patent-leather school Mary Janes.
The North London store sells cute felt animal toys, along with all the necessary accoutrements a bunny or a bear might need: houses, pot plants, teapots, mobile homes, umbrellas and more. But although it certainly is a one-of-a-kind magical world – in an area where most chickens are sold breaded in a bucket, and not in a camper van – sadly the owners are preparing to close its door forever.
A furry family affair
It all started when the improbably named Taylor and Rose Timbertop – the nicknames of the shop owners (named after the brown bear toy family), decided to create a catalogue store in the ’80s so they could ship the felt animal families globally. As hard-core Sylvanian fans, they wanted to share the love with like-minded people around the world.
It was in 1993 when the couple decided to open their physical store in 68 Mountgrove Road under their Sylvanian Family monikers.
“We were with Sylvanian Families from the very beginning,” said Ben Miller-Poole, 42, a store employee and family friend who started working with the couple half a lifetime ago, when he was just 21. Taylor and Rose, he said, remain a Timbertop mystery.
“Then it expanded from that into spare parts and then also into discontinued products that were hard to find in shops. And then it just kind of snowballed into doing the whole thing and beyond that,” added Miller-Poole.
“If [the store] still existed, even after they retire, they wouldn’t be able to help themselves but to be involved still and they would never switch off,” Miller-Poole said about Rose and Taylor, who are not just his employers but also long-time family friends.
Extra Sylvanian magic
The Timbertops spent a couple years discussing the store’s future before they made the big decision to close the walk-in specialty store, he said.
“It was really important to us that it wasn’t some big negative announcement that something bad was happening. It was a celebration of all the wonderful people that have supported us and helped us.”
That’s what they’ve always been about, giving that extra bit of magic that one feels as soon as they walk through the door. Being among rows of toys with cute faces on oak wood shelves is something that can transport even the most stoic adult back to the sweetness of childhood.
Miller-Poole said he’ll always remember some of the store’s regulars from around the world: “There was a lady that came once every three or four years from the US. She’d been a massive fan of doll houses and she’d come into Sylvanian Families through that.
“Even at her age — she must have been in her seventies or early eighties – she walked in the door and she was transformed into a child. She was just so joyful about all the tiny miniatures and all the cute animals,” he added.
“She’d spend hours here just chatting and talking about what her favourites were and that’s pretty much the norm.”
Fans around the world
The Sylvanian Families toys have gathered fans globally for years. It started in Japan and made its way to the UK in 1987, becoming an ’80s classic almost right away, sold in over fifty countries and with a dedicated theme park in Japan.
“Comfort, nostalgia, a sense of wanting to take care of them – another world!” are some of the emotions that come to mind when Alexandra Lunn, 35, a brand designer, thinks of the felt families.
“I used to go round to my cousin’s to play with her Sylvanian Families as she could afford to collect them. I had so much fun there with them and got totally obsessed with them!” she added.
Amy Kemp, 18, from Essex, is a Sylvanian Families YouTuber. She started collecting the friendly, felted figurines when she was three years old, when her parents got her the Grand Hotel for Christmas.
She said: “When I see Sylvanian Families, they make me feel happy. I’m always excited to see new Sylvanians. They make me feel at home.”
But even if it looks like a bit of the joy might be ending for collectors, who won’t be able to visit the store from next April, there’s nothing bittersweet or abrupt in the store’s legacy’s ending. It’s not a sad one, just a change of scene in the story the Timbertops started writing thirty years ago.
Link to published feature: https://hollowayexpress.org.uk/sweet-goodbye-to-nostalgia-sylvanian-families-store-closes-in-finsbury-park/