Kay Jay’s Doll Shoppe remodels, reopens its doors

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Submitted / The Himes girls: mother Katie, and daughters April, Rachael, Jaime and Maggie, wearing their Kay Jay's uniform, surround the lone Himes man: father Richard.  Submitted / The Himes girls: mother Katie, and daughters April, Rachael, Jaime and Maggie, wearing their Kay Jay's uniform, surround the lone Himes man: father Richard.

OCEAN CITY — Katie Himes had more than just inventory to consider at her family’s popular downtown doll store when Hurricane Sandy approached last month.

Kay Jay’s Doll Shoppe, in the middle of the 700 block of Asbury Avenue, boasts a large selection of dolls and doll accessories, including clothing, shoes and furniture.

As an official “doll hospital,” Kay Jay’s also had several “patients,” some recently admitted, awaiting a procedure of some sort, and others who had been repaired and were waiting to be discharged.

When it came time to evacuate the store and batten down the hatches, the patients were the first to leave for higher ground.

“I couldn’t let anything happen to my babies,” said Himes, who owns the store and runs it with her husband, Richard Himes and four daughters.

The babies included the patients and all of the new dolls awaiting adoption, a collection that included the Madame Alexander line, Adora, Middleton and Berringer dolls.

“Some of the dolls went with me, some went to my neighbors and some were at my daughter’s house,” Himes said.

The ailing patients, she said, were provided tender loving care in her home while they awaited anything from a new eye to a new arm, leg or other appendage. Some were very old, and all of them were precious.

“They were our first priority,” Himes said. “Older dolls can’t be replaced. We don’t take chances; people have memories and a family history associated with these dolls.”

On Friday, Nov. 23, Kay Jay’s reopened for the first day since the storm, just in time for the city’s Black Friday celebration. Boasting brand new pink shag carpet, Himes was thrilled with the new digs, which she dubbed her “pinkdom.”

“We’re really excited about the pink,” Himes said, adding that she wanted to replace the aging, dull gray carpet in the store for many years.

Himes said that, other than evacuating the precious cargo, she wishes she had taken the storm a little bit more seriously.

“We knew it would be bad, we took precautions, but we didn’t expect it to come in the front and the back. We had a foot of water in the store,” she said. “We were lucky; a lot of other places had a lot more. We’re in the middle of the block, and I think that helped. The corners usually flood a lot worse.

“We put things up six inches, thinking that would be enough, but of course it was not,” she said. “We didn’t lose the inventory, but we had a big mess on our hands. It was a really scary storm. We didn’t know what we were going to find when we returned.”

Preparing the store to reopen was not easy, she said.  They had to remove carpeting and walls that had been saturated by bay water and then they had to thoroughly clean the store. Once the space was clean and empty, they had to rebuild.

“It was a lot of work, but we did it,” she said.

A steady stream of customers came through the store on Friday, excited to see Kay Jay’s reopened.

“The kids have been coming in all day. They’re so happy to see the store, see how it looks with all the pink,” Himes said. “We’re happy to be back, and that’s all we heard all day, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re so happy to see you.’ It really felt good, everyone was so encouraging.”

Himes grew up in the doll business.

“My grandfather owned a doll hospital in Philadelphia in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s,” she said. “It was a part of my life.”

Her father, William Nichols, worked for Allstate Insurance and the family moved frequently, but her mother, Kathryn Nichols, loved the dolls and encouraged her daughter to recreate the family legacy.

Mother and daughter opened a doll shop at Eighth Street and Wesley Avenue in April 1985. A year later, they moved the shop to Ninth Street, on the corner of Simpson Avenue.

Himes married husband Richard in 1991. In 1999, the shop moved again to its current location, where Himes said they enjoy a lot more traffic.

“We really like being on Asbury Avenue,” she said.

Himes’ daughters, April, 33; Rachael, 19; Jamie, 15; and Maggie, 13, work in the store. April has another job and works as needed, for special occasion events. Rachael serves as the doctor in the doll hospital and Jamie and Maggie work at the store when they’re not in school.

Everyone who works at the store wears a specially designed pink costume.

The doll hospital, Himes said, is a unique feature.

“There are very few of them anywhere,” she said. “It’s a real art, and Rachael loves it. The dolls come in all beat up and they leave looking brand new. She’s very creative.”

Using parts salvaged from her great-grandfather’s Philadelphia hospital, Rachael has the perfect eye for how to recreate each and every doll, Himes said.

“We have arms, legs, eyes, teeth, you name it,” she said. “People bring a doll in and Rachael figures out how to do it. Once they’re admitted, she goes to work.

“This is definitely an unusual business,” Himes said. “We filled a niche in the community. We try to do things differently. We have some games and things here, but nothing technical. We only have things here that require you to use your imagination.”

The store carries accessories for the American Girl dolls, but the company will not permit them to sell the actual dolls.

“We make 90 percent of our clothes ourselves,” she said. “We have clothes and accessories designed for the Bitty Baby, 15 inches, and American Girl, 18 inches. We do everything we can for our customers: outfits, furniture, whatever. We are a full service doll shop.”

Himes said she rarely has a bad day.

“We’ve done very well,” she said. “Even in a bad economy, we’ve been busy. People will do things for their children, for their dolls, even in tough times.”

Last summer, it became apparent to the owners that the store needed extended hours and to remain open in the evenings.

“My husband has another job, but he offered to come and work the evenings,” Himes said. “He was raised with four sisters. We have four daughters, and here he is in this doll shop. He was a very good sport.”

While the hurricane put a dent in Christmas sales, Himes said she is optimistic it will still be a good season.

“We’re just so happy to be back,” she said.

Submitted / Kay Jay’s Doll Shoppe on Asbury Avenue is prepared for Hurricane Sandy. Despite the barricade, a foot of water entered the store during the storm.  Submitted / Kay Jay’s Doll Shoppe on Asbury Avenue is prepared for Hurricane Sandy. Despite the barricade, a foot of water entered the store during the storm. Submitted / The remodeled Kay Jay's, complete with pink shag carpet, opened on Black Friday, Nov. 23.  Submitted / The remodeled Kay Jay's, complete with pink shag carpet, opened on Black Friday, Nov. 23.


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