Don Kipper started working at his father’s toy store, Kip’s Toyland, when he was 9 years old. Besides dusting and organizing shelves, his main duty was tying strings to balloons.
Balloons and flags were the main items sold at Kip’s Toyland when it first opened in 1945. Don’s father, Irvin “Kip” Kipper, had just returned home from serving as a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot in World War II. During one mission, his Boeing B-17 bomber was shot down over Italy and Kip was captured by the German army. He was held as a prisoner of war for eight months before being rescued by U.S. forces.
Back home in mid-city Los Angeles, Kip, who had lived through the atrocities of war, was determined to do something joyful. So the 29-year-old, who had married his sweetheart on New Year’s Day 1939, decided to open a little toy store in the old Town and Country Village across the street from The Original Farmers Market on the corner of Third and Fairfax (where Whole Foods is today). That toy store, which moved to the Farmers Market in 1956 and is the oldest in Los Angeles, is celebrating 70 years of bringing smiles to families.
Kip is turning 99 this month. He still comes to visit his beloved shop every Saturday, after having breakfast with his two sons at the Farmers Market. Kip’s granddaughter, Lily, now manages the day-to-day operations along with her dad, Don.
“In post-war Los Angeles, there were no toy stores as we know them now. Toys were mostly sold in department stores during the holidays and sometimes in hardware stores,” says Don. “My dad was fascinated by mechanical displays in store windows during the holidays, and he loved the joy and happiness people had when buying a toy for a child.”
When Kip’s Toyland opened, there were no national chains, no credit cards and no electronic games. Despite the growth of mega malls and online shopping, this quaint shop has remained true to its roots – classic toys such as wooden blocks, Monopoly and Slinkys. The store also carries many items that are difficult to find elsewhere.
“Some families have been loyal customers for generations,” says Don. “We often hear, ‘My grandparents used to bring me here and now I’m bringing my grandchildren.’”
Lily, who graduated college in 2010, has fond memories of visiting her grandparents at the store. While her parents didn’t want her and her brother to have a pick of any toy in the store, her grandfather was always very generous. “Living on as Kip’s legacy is my everyday motivation,” says Lily. While Lily has managed the store since 2011, she says her grandpa is still very chivalrous and worries about a “young lady climbing on the ladder to put away the back stock.” The Old World charm of a gentleman and the store he built after the war is built into the fabric of this L.A. fixture.
And while Kip is thrilled to see his son and granddaughter taking over the family business, the reason he started it all continues to keep him coming back every week. When asked about his fondest memories through the decades, his reply is quick and from the heart: “Watching a child eye’s get huge when they receive that special toy.”