Richards’ toy corner, located on the northeast corner of Front and Buttonwood, was probably the largest store devoted to toys ,year round, in the city. No “youngster” of whatever age, passing by 101 Buttonwood Street, could resist the enormous temptation to go inside to explore the wonderland of goodies available there. From the most inexpensive of books to the most exotic toy, Richards’ had ’em all.
Founded by Milton B. Richards (1855-1944), an avid sportsman with a considerable interest in photography, the enterprise began at a different location and merchandised an altogether different line of goods. In 1888, M. B. Richards opened a tobacco store at 103 Penn Street, which would have been far down alongside the old, iron-truss Penn Street Bridge. For about a year, over the winter of 1894-1895, he conducted a similar store at 200 North 5th. By 1896, he had established himself at Front and Buttonwood. In 1899, the business began to trade under the name M. B. Richards & Son; the son was Walter E. Richards (1880-1942). Around 1912, the tobacco-products line was replaced by an array of sporting goods. In 1916, the focus was on fishing tackle and toys, the latter largely through the influence of son Walter. Walter Richards, a merchandising innovator, played an integral part in the development of an American toy industry. While Milton was content in his latter years to sell oysters, fresh, stewed and fried, from a small shack along Front Street behind the store, Walter devoted his considerable energies to toys. He built an addition to the rear, took over the basement plus the family’s second- and third-floor living quarters and a warehouse out back, and crammed every inch from floor to ceiling with what he described in another of his advertising slogans as “Everything Worthwhile in the Toy World.” Walter also had the side of the building painted with 8-foot-tall figures from nursery rhymes and decorated one delivery van as a Christmas gift with a red, metal bow on top, and the other as a circus wagon with lions on one side and tigers on the other. Another of his advertising slogans was, “We’re Not on Penn Street, But That’s All Right!” By 1921, Richards’ was a toy store. Stephen “Skip” Richards, who, along with brother-in-law J. Wilbur Lerch, conducted the business at the time of its closing, in 1963.
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