Novelty toy store entertains inner child of Beijing's greying population
Song Delong, 42, runs a "dispel melancholy grocery store" for the capital city's senior citizens. His patrons come from near and far to play with long-lost toys once in vogue during their childhood, awakening their inner child.
The 180-square-meter toy store on Yangzhuang Road, Tongzhou District of Beijing, includes a sales area and indoor "play area" for the young-at-heart. More than 400 types of toys line the shelves, from nostalgic ones such as spinning tops and diabolo to board games and fitness equipment, including mini-golf sets and table tennis training tools.
On its first day of business last year, also China's traditional Double Ninth Festival, an occasion to care for and send blessings to the country's elderly, silver-hair customers flooded the store for a chance to relive the golden days.
Fang Shuqin, 84, bought a popcorn machine in the store for about 100 yuan (about 15.4 U.S. dollars). "It feels great to enjoy popcorn during my screen time," she said. She also taught herself how to play table tennis using the training tools in the store.
The 64-year-old Fang Hailiang and his friends meet at the shop daily to play military chess. The automated chess table helps them judge who the winner is.
"It reminds me of my childhood. After the board games, we play billiards as well," Fang Hailiang said.
"Some make a quip comparing my shop to an old men's club and some liken it to a hospital as the toys help improve the elderly's mental health," Song said.
It is human nature to love playing, and senior citizens are also in need of toys suitable for them, according to the shop owner.
"Many of the elderly feel worn out as they babysit their grandchildren in the big city, while some easily get bored after retiring. The toys help to relieve such stress," he said.
However, conventional views question the plausible need for toys for the elderly, and toy manufacturers see the niche market as anything but lucrative especially considering the thrifty elder shoppers.
Though Song still finds it hard to break even, the creative toy outlet has gained the public's attention. Some far-flung nursing institutions came to purchase items, and local supermarkets learned from the setting and layouts of the small store. Some even drove about 70 km to pick a gift for their parents, who are in their 90s.
Song says the store is not just a retail outlet but a public space for the aged to participate in sports and make new friends.
In November 2020, Song held a sports day for about 70 older customers visiting the store. The competitions included Touhu, arrow throwing and mini-golf.
He also teaches the silver-haired how to play with the toys, though it sometimes takes them longer to master the skills.
"Some will bring me homemade dumplings or souvenirs. I love the store's human touch," Song said.
Currently, China's toy industry still has huge potentials in terms of its silver-haired economy. "One day, the demand of senior citizens will be given heed to by the market," Song believes.