Small-town toy store doing its best up against online shoppers

News Photo by Darby Hinkley A 1949 boat is seen at Mr. Mustache and Company .

David and Carolynn Walters want to share the love of God with each child they encounter. That’s why they started a children’s television program years ago, and why they own and operate a toy store of the same name, “Mr. Mustache and Company” in Rogers City.

“We’ve really spent our life ministering to and teaching children,” said David Walters, who started a Mr. Mustache puppet show when he was 15, performing at various churches.

“Forty-something years ago we were up here in northern Michigan, in Onaway and Cheboygan, doing children’s programs,” he said.

The couple has known each other since they were children. They began the TV program “Mr. Mustache and Company” in 1977, which was on broadcast TV for a long time, but now they are on the internet with a YouTube channel, said David Walters, who worked as a school teacher for more than 32 years. He said the show never provided an income — it was and is all volunteer work for both of them.

The Walters are originally from the Detroit area, then lived in Florida for years. They moved up north and started the toy store in Rogers City in November 2016.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Customers Kathy and Tim Lamb of Rogers City purchase gifts for their grandkids from Carolynn Walters at Mr. Mustache and Co. in Rogers City on Friday.

“The setting of our television program is a toy store, so after I got done teaching, I had another dream in mind,” David Walters explained. “I was looking for Mayberry.”

He found his Mayberry in Rogers City, where he and his wife decided to open a toy store with the backdrop of the TV show’s set inside the store.

“The reason we came here, from Florida, is that we were Michigan people, and we discovered Rogers City and we thought it was just a little jewel sitting here on the side of Lake Huron,” he said. “We love the people and we love the town.”

“I wanted to find a place that I could open a little toy store that was a real store,” he said. “Initially we thought from this store we would produce the television program.”

He said there ended up not being room for all the toys and the equipment required for show production, but he does offer guitar lessons and other arts and musical classes for young people at the store. This past fall, the Walters offered guitar, cartooning, puppetry and chess classes as after-school enrichment options for children and teens.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley David and Carolynn Walters pose near the fireplace in their toy store, Mr. Mustache and Company.

“We have a beautiful little store,” he said on Friday. “But this is a hard environment for brick-and-mortar stores to survive.”

He said his wife looked up statistics on spending habits, which are trending more and more toward online shopping.

“They said one in six dollars that are spent in the whole country on toys goes to Amazon,” Carolynn Walters said.

“And then Walmart is close behind that, and Target is close behind that,” David Walters said. “So, if you look at it, our buying habits, especially with millennials, are changing.”

It hasn’t been easy, staying afloat with all the online shopping options available nowadays, the Walters said, but they want to keep their doors open to offer something you can’t find at the big box stores — personal service and an old-timey small-town experience children will remember their whole lives.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley A 1950s elephant is seen at Mr. Mustache and Company.

“We wanted to create a destination place,” Carolynn Walters said. “Because people like to take their children somewhere that’s fun.”

The store features many unique, high-quality toys, including a huge selection of Melissa and Doug toys, a premiere manufacturer of long-lasting educational toys, many of which are made of wood. They also offer toys from Haba, a German company, and many others.

“The idea is to try to get people that live at a distance to make the trip over,” David Walters said. “… I may be a little biased, but I think it’s worth the drive.”

His wife added that some visitors, especially in the summer, have made it a part of their vacation plans to stop into the store.

“I think one of the reasons Toys R Us might have closed, is that you went in there, and it was just shelves of toys,” Carolynn Walters said. “There wasn’t really anything appealing that I saw. It was kind of overwhelming.”

News Photo by Darby Hinkley The 1923 Stafford Baldwin Nickelodeon that plays on cue at Mr. Mustache and Company.

They wanted children visiting their old-fashioned toy store to have a magical experience, like it once was for children of yesteryear.

“We give a free balloon to every child on their first time in,” she said, adding that with every purchase you get a ticket to ride one of the rides inside the store for free.

Three rides await children inside the store — a 1949 wooden boat bearing the inscription, “John 3:16” on its side, a 1950s elephant for the tots, and a 1960s horse for the older kids.

In addition to the rides for kids, customers of all ages will see a toy train riding the tracks above their heads as they shop. They will enjoy the music playing from the 1923 Stafford Baldwin Nickelodeon, which is basically an entire band trapped in what looks like just a piano at first glance.

“It’s all just compressed air hoses, controlled by a piece of paper with holes in it,” David Walters said of the musical wonder, called a Nickelodeon because it used to operate by putting a nickel in the slot. This one was converted to use quarters, but he operates it from up front now. Made in Cincinnati, the instrument was a precurser to the jukebox.

Other notable items that would be hard to find elsewhere include old-fashioned wooden sleds with metal runners, and wooden musket-style rifles, loadable with caps for that realistic shooting sound.

The store also features a Sweet Shop with fresh fudge of many flavors.

On Saturdays they offer free freshly popped popcorn, and Bible stories at 10:30 a.m.

“My heart for children is the same thing for our whole country,” David Walters said. “We need the Lord. I need him. I think everybody does.”

He said their business is based on reaching children with the love of Jesus.

“I don’t think there’s a proper appreciation in our country for the value of a child,” David Walters said. “Children are not liabilities. They’re assets. … Children are the greatest blessing.”

The Walters have seven children and 27 grandchildren.

“When I was in the public schools, you had to be careful about everything you say,” David Walters said. “Well, the truth is, I want people to know that the Lord loves them, that Jesus loves them. Christmas is about Jesus being born … to be our savior.”

The store, located at 203 N. Third St. in Rogers City, will have extended hours today through Friday, open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and opens at 10 a.m. Monday (Christmas Eve).

For more information about the store, go to the Mr. Mustache and Company Facebook page, or visit the website at mrmustache.com. Call the store at 989-559-9411.

A drawing for a Razor Jr. “Lil’ Crazy” preschool mini-go-cart valued at $100 will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. To enter, visit the store and drop an entry form into the jar.

The Walters’ TV program, Children’s Television Ministries, operates out of Onaway.

Darby Hinkley can be reached via email at dhinkley@thealpenanews.com, or by phone at 989-354-3111 ext. 324.