George Thayer and Walter LaValley
George: </b> I was born in Washington, D.C., and attended Anacostia High School before joining the U.S. Army. I served in Korea after the war and was stationed at Fort Myer in Arlington. After my release from the Army I went to work for Pepco, where I retired after 32 years of service. After living in Maryland for several years I moved to Alexandria 27 years ago, where I still reside.
<b>Walter: </b> He was born in San Francisco, but grew up in suburban Maryland where he attended grade school and high school. He graduated from both Prince George‘s Community College and the University of Maryland before moving to Alexandria 32 years ago. He has been an employee of the Washington Post Newspaper for more than 33 years, where he is still employed.
<b>Why did you choose this particular business? </b>
Walter had the business with another partner, Dan Leigh, in the 1970s and 80s, also named Bachelor II. They had been located in Fairfax County, Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria in the lower level of The Gilpin House and above The Coffee Bean on King Street. When his business partner became ill, the business was closed. A few years after I retired from Pepco, I wanted to open a business and asked Walter if he would like to start up the doll and bear business again. He agreed, so we opened a shop in Van Dorn Plaza on S. Van Dorn St. In 2000, we moved to our present condo location in Pickett Center North.
<b>Why did you choose to work for yourself rather than as an employee for someone else? </b>
As I was growing up in Washington, my father owned an auto repair shop. I had worked for him for a while and always wanted to be the proprietor of a small business. After I retired from Pepco, I had the time to work in a shop and Walter had the experience of running a shop, so we decided to go into business together. This is just something that I have always wanted.
<b>What have you learned from being in business? </b>
Running a small business requires a full-time commitment. You’re exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. The biggest reward is the people that you meet.
<b>Share an anecdote of a challenging or humorous experience or biggest surprise learned from working your business: </b>
As a collector’s shop, most of our customers visit us on a regular basis so we get to know them as friends rather than as just clients. They enjoy the shop as a place to talk about their collecting passions, not just a place to make a purchase. It’s always amazing to see the many talents our collectors have when they bring in a "Show and Tell" piece to share with us.
<b>What have been the advantages and/or disadvantages of opening a business in Alexandria? </b>
For one thing, the shop is a short commute from my home in Beverley Hills. That has been a big plus not to have to deal with the commute that I had when I was employed at Pepco. Also, the residents of Alexandria are accustomed to looking for small, quaint specialty shops.
Mr. "Grizzly" Bear, our complaint manager.
Brendle, our official customer greeter.
<b>Short bio: </b>
<b>Mr. Bear</b> comes from China and has no known family. He has no education and this is his first job. He stands over 6 feet tall and doesn’t say much, but he listens to complaints and anything else that customers want to talk about. He has been with us about 5 years and is a loyal employee. He replaced Miss Molly, our previous complaint manager.
<b>Brendle, </b>my dog, was introduced to me three years ago by one of our customers that work for Lost Dog Rescue. A cocker mix, she comes to work with me every day and loves to show off her toys to everyone that comes to the door. She loves children and will flip over in a second for a "tummy rub." My customers give her as much love and attention as she gives them.
<b>Key staff: </b>
Walter and I ran the business after we opened in Van Dorn Plaza, but shortly after we met Debra Johnson. Debra was a major bear collector and fell in love with the shop. She started coming in more and more and finally one day volunteered to come and work for us on Saturdays. Her expertise and knowledge of bears, and now dolls, has made her an unbelievable asset to the shop. Our customers love to come in and discuss bears, dolls and the latest outfits for the fashion dolls. Debra has become a close friend of both of us and has accompanied us on trips to trade shows and Toy Fair in New York City.
<b>Description of services and/or products: </b>
We are the largest doll and bear retailer in the Washington, D.C. area. Our product lines include Madame Alexander Dolls, Kish Dolls, Robert Tonner Dolls and Effanbee Dolls. Our bear companies include Steiff (we are a "Best of America" dealer with them), Merrythought, Hermann, R. John Wright and others. We stock both new and collectable dolls and bears. We also restring small dolls.