If there is a gospel of buying local, Christine Osborne is a big-tent revival preacher. As the owner of the four Wonder Works toy stores, she extols the virtues of eschewing big-box retailers with a cheer and fervor that border on religious.
“The big stores, they’re like the bread of the sandwich that makes up our community,” Osborne says, “but we are the secret sauce of that sandwich.” A film crew from MSNBC recently filmed an Entrepreneur of the Week segment at her store that is airing in vignettes throughout Thanksgiving week. While Osborne has owned the business for 23 years, she gives credit to Lowcountry Local First for changing her perspective in the last few years.
LLF, a Charleston-area buy-local advocacy group, “has turned around my business model,” Osborne says. “It made me understand that my local business is not just a storefront.” Osborne has since founded and sponsored the Wonderific Kids program to recognize local children engaged in volunteering and charity work. She seeks out and stocks local products in her store, and she buys her paper products and other supplies from local companies. One local gadget you’ll find in her stores is the Charleston Hooker, a grill tool developed by a Charleston lantern maker.
Osborne also takes an interest in the cutting edge of the toy industry. On Nov. 10, she hosted the Elfstravaganza, an event for toy inventors, in Charleston. It was there that she introduced the inventor of Popar, an augmented-reality app for tablet computers, to the authors of The Elf on the Shelf. She’s hoping a collaboration will come out of the meeting. “We’re helping to develop the industry,” Osborne says. “It’s not just someone up in New York in a closed room coming up with a toy.”
According to Osborne, big sellers this year at Wonder Works include the Boogie Board, an electronic version of the Etch-a-Sketch; the LiteHawk, a remote-controlled helicopter; and the Sonic Quake, which turns any surface into an iPod speaker.
Wonder Works’ West Ashley and Mt. Pleasant locations will open at 8 a.m. on Black Friday, with storewide discounts from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The downtown location will open at 9:30, and the Johns Island location will open at 10 a.m.