As a touring musician for more than two decades, Terry Taylor left many stops with a new souvenir.
During his touring years, including as a bassist for Lawrence-based Hammerlord, Taylor bought toys all over the United States, Mexico and Canada. He racked up quite the collection, and he realized just how many he had after he stopped touring. So when he and his wife, Liz, were looking to fund in vitro fertilization, he came up with a solution: selling toys at conventions.
After about seven years of conventions — and eventually creating a space to sell out of their garage — the Taylors spotted a “for rent” sign in a downtown Lawrence window. The side gig grew, and the Taylors developed a base of loving customers.
But running the toy store isn’t all they do. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for Liz, a full-time registered nurse, and Terry, a part-time respiratory therapist, but their regulars have kept the store afloat and made the struggle worthwhile.
In February 2019, the 280-square-foot space at 1021 ¼ Massachusetts St. became home to 1313 Mockingbird Lane, a vintage toy store named after the mansion featured on “The Munsters” TV show, which Taylor loved growing up.
“The Munsters kind of stand for everything I stand for, like acceptance of people that maybe aren’t all the same,” Taylor said.
“As a little punk rock kid, I just gravitated toward that. A werewolf, a Frankenstein, and a normal person all living in one house, teaching people values of acceptance and stuff.”
The store sat in the small space wedged between Supersonic Music and Aladdin Cafe for two years before moving just a few doors down into a notably bigger one, at 1027 Massachusetts St., last year.
Taylor said the move has increased their walk-in traffic by a lot. With more room for social distancing, the new space also makes it easier to take precautions against COVID-19, which Taylor doesn’t take lightly.
As healthcare workers, the Taylors saw the impact of the pandemic firsthand and knew how much was at stake. They started offering curbside toy sales and stopped attending conventions — which normally make up about a third of their income — for a year.
Taylor increased his hours at the hospital during the last year to help fill an increased need for staff, and he said what he saw there sometimes made it difficult to switch hats and return to the toy store.
But their customers were invested in making sure the store stayed open, Taylor said, and they consistently showed up for 1313 Mockingbird Lane’s Facebook Live sales, which began early into the pandemic. The store reopened its doors in August 2020, but those live sales still typically get around 4,000 views.
“Having to come here and kind of put on a happy face was kind of hard sometimes,” he said. “But we have so many regulars that come in here that are just so awesome. They just make your day when they walk in.”
Before the pandemic, the Taylors had always tried to keep their medical lives separate from 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Then Taylor received a phone call at the store last year about being featured on an episode of Amazon Prime’s “A Toy Store Near You.”
Created by the same company behind Netflix’s “The Toys that Made Us,” the series focused on independently owned toy stores just like 1313 Mockingbird Lane and their journeys through COVID-19.
On the show, he and his wife spoke candidly about what it was like to juggle the two jobs, and after their episode aired, Taylor said he heard from people around the world who were inspired by their story.
The “cat was out of the bag” locally about the hardships they’d faced while working in healthcare too, he said, and the store’s customers were empathetic.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of businesses that can say that their customers are actually worried about the workers’ well-being,” Taylor said. “I get a little teary-eyed even talking about it.”
Those customers are Taylor’s favorite part of owning 1313 Mockingbird Lane. He hopes to bring back things like themed sidewalk sales and in-store movie showings, but predicting the store’s future is tricky with COVID-19.
Regardless, he knows their regulars will be in that future.
“If the store closed tomorrow, I think we would still all go hang out,” Taylor said. “I don’t think the friendship would stop with the store. And that means the world to my wife and I.”
The store is open to masked customers from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.