By Ronald Fisher
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Young Heart Books & Toys” officially reopened on June 3. Owners Jeffrey Masterson and Ann kelly along with their son Sebastian are working together to provide the Somerset area with children’s books, toys and other learning resources.
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
Jeffrey Masterson and Ann Kelly have been married for 11 years. Like most couples, Masterson and Kelly have been through good times and bad times.
However, what makes their relationship different from most is the fact that they’re not only partners in marriage, but they also are partners in business.
It’s a family affair at Young Heart Books & Toys in Somerset. Masterson and Kelly, along with their 10-year-old son, Sebastian, are working together to provide the Somerset area with children’s books, toys and other learning resources.
The Westmont couple purchased the children’s book store, 101 W. Main St., from its former owner in January. The family of avid readers began to put their own touch on the store soon after.
After moving the store’s location from the back of the Shoppes at Glades Court Mall to the front of the building, it was time to spruce things up in the store, Masterson said.
“Ann’s family came in and helped with the painting,” Masterson said. “My brother came in and laid the floor down in here — so it’s been a real family affair for us here.”
Prior to Masterson and Kelly taking over the business, the store had already been operating for nearly 20 years.
The former owner decided it was time to retire, which immediately sparked an interest with Ann.
“Ann got to know the former owner because she was buying books and things off of her,” Masterson said. “So they became friends.”
Kelly said, “Just making comments while shopping in the store, I said ‘I would really love it if this were my job.’ ”
Little did she know that the opportunity would soon become available.
“She called me at work one day and said, ‘You told me you wanted this store, and I’m retiring. So it’s either close the store or sell it,’ ” Kelly said. “I said to her, ‘Let me call you back.’ ”
“So guess who got the next phone call?” Masterson asked.
Kelly added, “I would never be here if it weren’t for Jeff saying yes.”
Young Heart Books & Toys officially reopened on June 3, and Masterson said business has been going very well.
“It’s been pretty steady,” he said. “July was awesome and August was pretty good.”
The couple said business recently slowed down a bit with the start of the school, which was expected.
“Folks are now concentrating on clothes, and those sorts of things,” Masterson said.
“And people aren’t traveling as much,” Kelly said. “This is a turnpike town, people come and go.”
Despite the recent drop in traffic, the couple remain optimistic that business will eventually pick back up again.
Having a business that stands apart from similar businesses is very important to the couple.
Their strategy to provide different and unique items is part of the reason why they are confident their business will continue to find success.
“We try to stock things that they can’t find somewhere else,” Kelly said. “I don’t want to walk into Walmart and see what we sell here on their shelves over there. So we’re looking for the different and unique.
“If you come in to buy something for somebody, it’s going to be something special,” she said.
Adding to the uniqueness of the store, the twosome said they carry what they call “legacy toys.”
“I call them legacy toys because they are going to last longer than the child’s youth — they can be passed on,” Masterson said. “Most of what we have are the wooden toys, and it’s tough to destroy them. That’s the stuff that we are looking for.
“High quality with an educational value.”
With Kelly’s background in early education and Masterson’s business savvy, the couple truly complement each other.
“She’s the expert on the kids, and I’m the expert on the other stuff I guess,” Masterson said.
“We kind of balance each other out on a lot of things.
“Ann likes to come in and she’ll see things that need to be changed around that I don’t see. She’s the organizer,” Masterson said. “I’ll come in and I’ll be the salesperson, talking to everyone.
“The bad thing is whenever she comes in on a day that I’m not here and then rearranges everything,” he said. “And then I come in and I have to call her to find everything.”
While their balanced partnership keeps the store afloat, it’s their son, Sebastian, who they say is the glue that brings the store together.
Sebastian, who attends Westmont Hilltop Elementary School, is the store’s department manager of used books — a title that his parents said he takes quite seriously.
“This initially started with him selecting his own books from his collection at home,” Masterson said. “So the books he no longer had an interest in, he selected, and then we started to stock the shelves with them.”
“It started with one little shelf,” Kelly said. “Now there are two or three shelves.”
In addition to operating his own department, Sebastian sweeps floors, stock shelves and helps with pricing, they said.
With school back in session Sebastian doesn’t get to spend as much time at the store as he would like to, but every weekend he can be found in the used books section.
Spreading the love
It’s no secret that this family truly enjoys working together, but what Kelly said she also loves is seeing the faces of the children as they make their way throughout the store.
“I love seeing the kids come in and their faces light up,” she said.
“You ask them if they need help and they say they’re just looking, and then you hear them say, ‘Oh my gosh look what they have.’ ”
Masterson said what he loves about the store is something that he believes to be very important — getting a physical book in the hands of children.
“Trying to get a physical book into a child’s hand is even more important today than it ever has been,” he said.
“Sure you have your Kindles and other electronic books, but it is just not the same as the feel and the touch of a real book.”
Offering a place for families to gather and browse the books and stories they enjoy is the overall goal for the couple. The family-operated store is becoming known in the area for it’s welcoming atmosphere which allows local readers, young and old, to partake and enjoy the written word in ways that smart phones and e-books can’t provide.
“We’re so happy that we did this for the community,” Masterson said.
“It’s hard to describe, but they consider this to be a treasure almost … they’re just so happy it’s here.
“And that makes me feel really good,” he said, “and it’s just been so welcoming by the community because of that.”