Bucket list: Visit LARK ToysKELLOGG, Minn. – A large world map peppered with colorful pins proudly hangs on the wall at LARK Toys, highlighting the various hometowns of hundreds of its visitors each year.
By: Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
KELLOGG, Minn. – A large world map peppered with colorful pins proudly hangs on the wall at LARK Toys, highlighting the various hometowns of hundreds of its visitors each year.
“Except for Antarctica, we’ve had people from every continent,” owner Kathy Gray said.
And they’re not just kids.
The Kellogg, Minn., toy store is more than a shop. It’s dubbed a “whole family adventure” and includes mini golf, an antique toy museum, fudge, candy and food, a carousel, toys and books for sale and even llamas. It was recently named one of the 10 coolest toy stores in the world by Reader’s Digest Canada.
“People come here and find themselves here five hours later,” co-owner Miranda Gray-Burlingame said.
Playing the outdoor mini golf course is enough to eat up an hour or two on its own. It’s one of the only mini golf courses in the area and offers fun for adults, kids and kids at heart.
Players can keep score and make for a competitive game, or just enjoy going through the scenic course.
It winds around an open space just outside the store, next to a set of picnic tables.
The area’s bluffs make for a picturesque backdrop to the bright green course dotted with flowers, fountains and a waterfall.
Hitting the colorful golf balls and visiting the rest of the store is more than a way to spend an afternoon for some.
LARK often gets visitors from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester waiting for appointments or treatments.
“They come here to distract themselves,” Kathy said.
Others take the opportunity of playing with the toys and flipping through the books to reconnect.
“It provides time for busy parents and grandparents to sit and look at the kids,” Kathy said.
“That’s why most of our toys don’t have batteries,” Miranda added. Instead, the puzzles, games and wood toys draw people in and encourage them to play together. The family business focuses on toys that are interactive and stimulating.
Then, of course, there’s the famous carousel that has been a key piece of LARK’s popularity.
The hand-carved wooden ride features traditional animals such as horses but also lets riders join more unique creatures including goldfish and birds.
The ride also has a wide appeal. People enjoying ladies’ weekends, stopping on a bus tour or even taking pictures before prom take a turn on the carousel, Kathy’s husband and LARK co-owner Ron Gray said.
Events like the annual scarecrow contest or summer road trips also draw even more people to the site, Miranda said.
And if they build up an appetite while enjoying the various activities at LARK, visitors can feed their sweet tooth with more than a dozen varieties of fudge at the Fudge Tree or swing by the candy store for jelly beans, swirly lollipops and chewy taffy.
The store also has a café with burgers, cheese curds and other food a bit more substantial.
Having such a variety of activities and products made learning to run the place a bit difficult.
“The first few years the learning curve was so deep,” said Miranda, whose husband Scott is also a co-owner of the store along with her parents Kathy and Ron. “But it’s such a diverse place you never get sick of it.”
The learning also was enjoyable, the owners said, because it is a family business. And that’s evident to visitors as well.
“People tell us it matters a lot,” Kathy said. “We genuinely care about making this a good experience.”
The family took over the business in early 2008, moving to the area from the Twin Cities. They had been “looking for a creative entrepreneurial adventure” to go on together after Miranda suffered serious health issues when giving birth to her daughter.
That’s when they discovered LARK, and have enjoyed running the store ever since.
“You never get tired of watching the joy,” Kathy said. “You can see people reconnecting. It’s the heart of why we do what we do.”
To both the owners and visitors, adults and kids alike, LARK Toys is more than a toy store, Miranda said.
“LARK has some kind of magic that appeals to every age.”
If you go…
What: LARK Toys
Where: Kellogg, Minn., just off Highway 61
When: Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, mini golf and ice cream are available until 8 p.m.
Cost: A carousel ride is $2, mini golf is $7
More information: Call 507-767-3387 or visit www.larktoys.com