A family is peering through the glass doors. It’s opening time at The Dancing Bear Toys and Little Luxuries in Sturgeon Bay.
“Hello!” says Bonnie Bymers Statz, who has owned the shop since its inception in 1994 and has spent many hours behind the counter helping customers.
“Bear!” squeals the little boy as Statz hauls out a giant, appropriately masked, stuffed bear on a pedestal; a chalkboard “Open” sign; and a hand-sanitizer station.
“I just ask that only four at a time go in,” Statz says. “This is the year of rules. I feel like a principal.”
The family is happy to oblige. Grandpa and Dad stay behind while Mom, Grandma and the kids mask up, hold out their hand for a dollop of sanitizer and head inside to browse.
And they might be awhile – there’s a lot to take in. Stuffed animals of all
kinds (even a stuffed avocado or two) dangle their soft legs over shelves. Board books and puzzles line the walls. There are wooden trains and building sets, colorful shape sorters, dress-up attire, craft sets, teethers, figurines, and games, games and more games.
“I get to be a kid forever,” Statz says. “I get to buy toys for a living!”
Statz never meant to own a toy store. Hailing from central Wisconsin, she and her husband, Dennis Statz, moved to Door County in the early 1980s to open The White Lace Inn.
“That was plenty,” Statz said, until the day pharmacist Earl “Bud” Stroh approached them about buying his building on 3rd Avenue.
“That was not on our radar,” Statz said, “but this is a cool building, and he made [the offer] extremely attractive. We just couldn’t resist.”
Statz, who has a certificate in interior design from Madison Area Technical College, went to work renovating the space and renting out the downstairs as a shop.
A couple years later, Sheila’s Corner House Shops in Sturgeon Bay closed its doors, ending the Statzes’ supply chain for the Hadley brand of pottery they used at the inn to serve breakfast. They decided to convert the upstairs apartment of the 3rd Avenue building into a small store – “real low-key,” as Statz described it. The Hadley pottery was displayed in the kitchen, home décor in other rooms and toys in just one little room. Within a year, they had expanded the toys because of their popularity.
“Since then, we’ve always been mostly toys but have never given up the little luxuries,” she said of their candles, soaps, greeting cards and jewelry.
The name they came up with had the whimsicality they were looking for, and it reminded them of William H. Beard’s famous painting “The Bear Dance.” Eventually they moved The Dancing Bear downstairs, and Statz’s background in interior design was able to shine through.
“I wanted to do something that had character, so we got a lot of antiques and had a carpenter build in these shelves,” she said. “It gives a more unique feeling than just one big, giant, open space.”
Statz does admit that having a cozy space and small staff is “challenging in these times” when she’s trying to keep herself, her staff and her customers safe. Yet although the world can feel a bit scary and daunting these days, the toy shop, with all its treasures, is a “happy place to be,” for both children and adults.
“Grown-ups get to be kids, too,” Statz said, “and that’s fun to see.”
Visit The Dancing Bear in person at 13 N. 3rd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay or online at DancingBearShop.com.