Starter Series: Walking Stick Toys

Erika Hickey reviews & interviews

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The Mamalode Starter Series is an exciting opportunity for us to introduce you to some of the amazing people we get to meet. Starting something takes enormous amounts of work, faith, help and community. Every week we'll share another story of starting. So, community of Mamalode, read up, get inspired and check out these wonder-folk.

Tell us a bit about your business and how you started it.

I had my first babe in 2004 and was on the hunt for safe toys that I felt comfortable letting him gnaw on. A good friend who was opening a cloth diaper store and I decided to open a toy store. We teamed up and shared a location. Walking Stick Toys officially opened in October of 2005—right after my son Simon turned one. I carefully chose only the most socially responsible companies I could track down. I decided my toys would only be made from sustainable resources; wood, wool, cotton and. I wanted to create something I couldn't find and was hopeful others would be searching for. The shop started on a very small scale and has grown immensely over the last eight years.

What do your kids think about your job?

A couple of years ago we were tossing around the idea of closing the shop. There was a lot of transition both in our lives and with the store. We debated it for a spell. I remember Simon, my now nine-year-old, being really torn up over the possibility of our store closing. Simon and Gus have grown up there. It is their home away from home. After ny son August (Gus) was born in 2007, we went back to work together when he was a mere two-weeks-old. They've never known me to work anywhere else but in our toyshop. They take their shoes off immediately when we get there, just like home. We have our office space with a cozy napping nook, rocking chair, refrigerator, 'dining room' table, and they make themselves very comfortable in that space. They both potty trained at the store, running around with little naked booties and Babylegs. They spent feverish days there watching cartoons when they needed to be with Mama.

The store made it possible for us to be together through their youngest years until school started. I pick them up from their bus stop at the end of each school day, go home, do homework, make dinner, spend weekends with them; the flexibility has been amazing. I don't miss many moments with them and even if they don't knowingly appreciate it right now, someday they will.

I asked them each this question—what they think about my job. Simon was confused as to why I was asking him how he felt about my job. First he asked me “Which one?” That made me feel good—that he knows a mama's job is enormous. He told me, “I like it because it is fun to go to a store everyday.” (He doesn't go to the store more than twice a month these days.) I asked him “Why?” hoping to gather a bit more to juice up my story.  “I don't know.” Backfired. I asked him “What if we had a post store?” He said “What for?” “Hmm, you know, for making fences,” I said. He thought that wouldn't be quite as fun and returned with “Our store is fun because it is full of toys.”

Gus just gave me a little hug and said, “Your job is fun, because it’s in a toystore.” I think my kids have had a happy life, so far, spending some of their days in our toy shop, and I think they would both agree that their mom has a pretty sweet job.

Tell us about a total mom + biz fail?

I can't remember one specific fail, but as you can imagine there have been several! Work plus throw up all over me, throw up all over the store, pee/poo everywhere, really uncomfortable parenting moments with a shop full of observers/shoppers, distracted phone calls and selling things that don't exist (in our online store). Self-employment whilst child rearing is full of fails.

I often have to drop things and walk away from my customers to tend to something with my kids—usually they understand. It might not be the best business practice but I honestly don't care. My kids come first, just like they ought to. They have learned over the years that sometimes they have to wait a minute or two before I can help them with something, but I think that would have happened with or without Walking Stick Toys.

One memory that seems to stick out…I was at a Kids Fair at a booth that I'd paid $400 for to promote my business. Fifteen minutes in, I got a phone call. My husband was out of town and Gus had injured his foot at a birthday party a friend had taken him to. She said if it were her daughter she would have take her to the ER. So, I left the $400 booth and went to pick up my little patient. He did need medical attention right away, so I don't regret leaving that $400. Who would? I often fail in the over-committing myself department. I should have made sure I had someone available to cover the booth in case of an emergency or have someone cover it so that I could have been at the birthday party with Gus.

Share with us a total win (brag away!)

I think the win that I feel the best about is that all of the mamas that work at the store bring their children with them. So many sweet kids are growing up just like Simon and Gus did as a part of our Walking Stick Toys family and with their mamas as often as they need to be. The mamas of Walking Stick all work very part time. That is what they want, and the perk, in addition to a little paycheck, is not having to find childcare. I'm happy that works in this particular business. It makes me feel like what I'm doing is worthwhile. 

What's your relationship with Mamalode?

I went to the very first Mother's Day Eve party after Simon was born. I loved it. I met Elke there, watched Mamalode come into fruition and have always been a supporter and advertiser. I have the gorgeous magazine in my store and love being a place for people to pick up the latest copy. Mamalode and I are pretty good pals. I love reading stories written by mamas, relating to things I read, and also reading intimate things written by friends in my parenting community. Mamalode is a resource to many mamas and I like to think that Walking Stick Toys is too. I think the partnership that Mamalode provides to many small businesses is really impressive and a 'total win' for them and everyone they have a relationship with. Small business doesn't work very well without a community.

About the Author

Erika Hickey

Erika is a wife of a pretty rockin' guy, Shane. She is Mama to two boys, Simon and August. She is an owner of a little toy shop on Missoula's Hip Strip that employs a plethora of Mamas and their babes. provides Missoula with natural toys and goods for babies and kiddos. The toy biz is only one of Erika's many interests/loves. She does some birth (doula) work in our community, loves educating and being educated on the use of essential oils, knits and sews as often as possible, and obviously really loves to make lunch.

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