Nearly 30 years after starting Kids’ Ketch in downtown Lewes, Teresa Ford said it’s time to take a step back.
The founder of Lewes’ iconic brick-and-mortar toy store recently sold the business to Lori and Sandy Smyth, owners of Tidepool Toys and Games in Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island. Ford will continue to work in the store on a part-time basis.
“I wanted to be able to spend more time with my grandchildren,” Ford said.
She also noted that running a business day-to-day can take its toll. Customer interaction was always one of her favorite parts of the job, and she had less and less time for it recently as she worked on accounting, purchasing and other business-related tasks.
Working part time, Ford can spend more time in the store with customers. “When the phone rings now, I know it won’t be for me,” she said with a laugh.
Ford met the Smyths several times over the years at various toy conventions. Lori Smyth said Kids’ Ketch was always the model they were looking to when opening their stores.
The Smyths’ first shop opened on the Bethany Beach boardwalk in 2011. Next came Fenwick Island in 2014, followed by a seasonal store at Viking Golf Amusements in 2015.
When Ford made the decision to semi-retire, she immediately called the Smyths.
“That was a big honor for me,” Lori Smyth said. “This is my mentor. Kids’ Ketch was always the store we were striving to be.”
Ford opened Kids’ Ketch in 1990 in what is now Abraxas Hudson’s art studio across Second Street. Ford said there was a definite need for a quality toy store in the area. “Whenever we needed a birthday gift, the choices were very limited,” she said. “We were either going to the discount department store or the 5 and 10. I thought there had to be better toys out there.”
Lewes in the ’90s was a family town with a lot of kids. It has since transitioned into a grandparents’ town, but the toy store still has appeal, Ford said. “The grandparents truly appreciate it,” Ford said. “Then all the families that come in the summertime. Everybody really likes our hands-on aspect, and face-to-face shopping is still fun when it comes to toys.”
There are a lot of parallels between the Fords and Smyths. Teresa’s husband Jim, the former mayor, is a contractor. Lori’s husband is also a contractor. Teresa started the business when her kids were 6 and 8 years old. Lori opened her first store when her kids were 4 and 7 years old.
What’s made the Smyths’ Tidepool shops so successful, Sandy said, is that they do not focus on beach and boardwalk toys. Rather, they offer a traditional toy store experience, including a play area and weekly story time in the summer.
They don’t expect to change much at Kids’ Ketch. The name will remain the same, and all of the staff is intact, including Teresa’s son Jake who’s been there for 20 years. One minor change is that the Lewes shop now carries Lego brand toys. Conversely, Tidepool now carries Playmobil, which they never had carried prior to the merger.
“Most of the changes will be on the back end,” Sandy said. “We’ve integrated our systems, things like that. We want to have the same look and feel going forward.”
Kids’ Ketch, 132 Second St., is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Hours will expand after Memorial Day.
Tidepool Toys and Games is open with the same hours at the Bethany boardwalk location. In Fenwick, the shop is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday. Hours will expand in the summer. The seasonal shop at Viking Golf is open when the course is open.