Creating Community through Books, Toys, and Play

“You can never have too many books,” Becca firmly believes.

She and her sister Jenny are the founders and co-owners of Clothes Pony and Dandelion Toys in Old Town Fort Collins (and which happens to be a Flash Your Card participant). You might think that owning a retail store that includes a curated selection of children’s and tweens’ books would make these entrepreneurs less likely to encourage people to use the library, but in fact, it’s really the opposite. She points to the role of the library in fostering readers of all ages.

“You can’t buy enough books to be read. You need the library,” explains Becca. “You get to check out as many books as you want, and you might not love them all, but that’s okay because you can return them.”

From left to right: Becca, Jo Jo, and Jenny at Clothes Pony and Dandelion Toys in Old Town Fort Collins.

Both Becca and Jenny are huge readers and longtime supporters of Poudre River Public Library District. And, taking their kids to the library was simply a family tradition. Becca recalls spending much of her time as a child at her local Carnegie Library, browsing the children’s book shelves and choosing the books she wanted to take home. It’s a routine that has become a lifelong practice, even if she doesn’t check out children’s books so much anymore.

“I have at least seven library books by my bed at all times,” Becca mentions and laughs.  “If it gets down to one, I get anxiety building and have to get to the library to replenish.”

The sisters’ love of books and reading is evident in the time they take to search for great children’s books to add to their store shelves. Just as with choosing clothes or toys for the shop, they attend specialized industry fairs and showrooms, walking each aisle to find new and interesting and different items.

#ConnectToCuriosity: In 2014, Jenny and Becca generously donated the oversized chess pieces that sit outside Old Town Library for families and the public to enjoy.

“We look for fun and creativity and charm and beauty,” Jenny explains though she credits their team member Sarah with a lot of the background research into books and new publishers. “We travel and handpick every single thing, and we believe we pick wonderful things at a real variety of prices.”

When Jenny and Becca first opened their store in 2003, in the storefront that used to house the Children’s Mercantile, it was with the hope of running a little retail store where they could work together and of creating a community-oriented space for families to relax, make a mess, and hang out. They wanted a place that encouraged families to connect with one another and didn’t judge or make parents feel bad about how they chose to raise their children.

A young girl plays with a few of the toys on display. Kids and families are encouraged to touch and play with everything in the store.

“The germ of our store didn’t come from a place of product,” says Jenny, “but a place of community.”

Their store philosophy is unique compared to others in the industry and often shocks people who visit the store.

“We revel in true childhood and don’t expect kids to be anything but themselves,” Jenny says of their kid-friendly, touch-everything and make-a-mess approach. “We’d rather have kids smearing chocolate on dresses than feel like we’re alienating a single family.”

Kids are encouraged to touch everything and play together.

And it’s not just the kids who touch everything and make the occasional mess. On a recent visit to the store, I spied adults enjoying the wide selection of “squishable, huggable” plush toys on display when you first walk in the door.

This day, babies and toddlers, moms and dads, and a group of grandmas all browsed the aisles, delighting in every toy, book, and piece of clothing. There were cries of excitement blended with actual crying because children didn’t want to leave the store just yet.

There were quiet moments too, as moms and babies read together in a back corner and as a small girl made soft squeaking noises at Bailey, the store’s Lionhead rabbit. Yes, they have a live bunny!

#ConnectToCuriosity: The bunny that previously lived in this location (formerly Children’s Mercantile) was named Dandelion. When Jenny and Becca moved Clothes Pony into that location, they continued to love and care for Dandelion in their store until it was time for Dandelion to move to a farm. That’s when they adopted Bailey who happily greets kids and adults alike when they stop by. Dandelion Toys was named in honor of their first bunny.

Everyone (and every bunny) is welcome at Clothes Pony and Dandelion Toys whether browsing the shelves, playing with the toys, reading books, or connecting with others …just like at Poudre River Public Libraries.

“Kids have always had so many limitations on where they can be,” explains Becca. “As a kid I took the bus to the library and knew I could just walk in and feel at home. Libraries signify a place where anyone can go.”

“I love that the library has become a real community center,” Jenny adds.

To visit Jenny, Becca, the amazing store manager Jo Jo, and all the other fantastic staff at Clothes Pony and Dandelion Toys, stop by 111 N. College Ave. in Old Town. And check out the website,

Clothes Pony and Dandelion Toys is a participant in the Library District’s Flash Your Card program, so be sure to show your library card when you’re there.