Post image for A holiday check-in with Cheeky Monkey owners, Dexter and Anna Chow

One of my favorite small businesses in Menlo Park is Cheeky Monkey, an independent toy store, located at 640 Santa Cruz Avenue a block and half from El Camino. Beyond just toys, Cheeky Monkey has board games, puzzles and gifts for all ages. The owners Dexter and Anna Chow were kind enough to sit down with me for this interview during the holiday season.

Ray: I have to ask, I have always wondered, how did you arrive at the name, “Cheeky Monkey”?

Anna: Cheeky monkey is a British expression meaning a loving and mischievous child. I’m sure every parent has had at least one moment when they would describe his/her own child as a “cheeky monkey.” I love the fact that when you say “cheeky monkey” you just have to smile.

Ray: Dexter, for many years you have tirelessly volunteered with Fran Dehn at the Chamber of Commerce planning and working events such as the Tree Lighting and the Downtown Block Parties. On top of all the work that comes with being a small business owner, you are always looking for ways to give back to the community. Why do you do it?

Dexter: Well, first and foremost is because I enjoy it — it’s an opportunity to meet different groups of people and engage different parts of my brain. However, I also believe that it’s an essential responsibility as part of a community. We live and raise our kids here, and want to help make Menlo Park the best place possible.

Ray: Whenever I am in the Downtown I see the store full of parents and kids having fun. You really have created a magical place at Cheeky Monkey. Are there any special events happening this Holiday Season at Cheeky Monkey?

Anna: We participated in the Winter Wine Walk that benefits the MPAEF again this year. But our main focus this time of year is making sure that everyone gets the perfect gift. Whether it is coming into the store to pick out a special gift for a sibling or making a wish list for themselves, we want to make sure the holiday shopping experience is what it was meant to be — fun!

We will have our annual Countdown to Noon celebration on New Year’s Eve, and in January we will resume our regular reoccurring events like Page to Play and Pokemon Training. And of course, there will be other special events throughout the year.

Ray: I know you both travel spending a lot of time trying to find the right mix of inventory. I admit, I have lost quite of bit of time in your superheroes figurine section, which is awesome by the way. What’s that process like, what are you thinking about as you choose toys to fill the store?

Dexter: There are several things we look at, but ultimately it’s toy value, which means different things depending on the toy and the age. It’s never just the price, it’s how the child interacts with the toy. Superhero figures are a good example. They help spark imagination, can promote ideals and empathy through role play, have a shared social component (talking about them with peers/parents), and much more. And then sometimes, we also choose a toy just because it’s super cool and excites us.

Anna: Going to toy trade shows is a lot of fun, but you see so many toys on the market that don’t match with our goal of providing quality toys to our customers. The more types of media that kids are exposed to, the more licenses you see flood the market, which have their place, but we also don’t want licenses just for the sake of the license: it has to add value or be thematically part of the toy.

I’ve had the honor of being one of five retailers nationwide to be on ASTRA’s (American Specialty Toy Retailer’s Association) Best Toys for Kids Committee. It has been an amazing experience working with some of the top retailers in the country to review all the nominations for this prestigious award. It has also given me the opportunity to see toys that I may have missed at the trade shows.

Ray: What are the hot items this Holiday season?

Anna: We get asked this question very often. I’ve always been curious about who decides what is a “hot” toy (probably the same people that decide whether plaid is in or out of fashion). Most of my favorites for this holiday season you probably would not see on very many lists, but they include: Grand City Train Station by Hape, Harry Potter’s Light Painting Wand, Auto Moto Changing Robot by Odysessy Toys, and the Ooze Lab Chemistry Station by Thames & Kosmos. Of course we have the “hot” toys that are on a lot of other lists, which will be in high demand: LOL Surprise Dolls, Scruf-A-Luv, Pomsies, Beyblades and of course Legos, Legos, and more Legos!

But what makes it a truly “hot” toy, is choosing the perfect toy for each child. We have an amazing, talented staff that can help each customer find that perfect toy.

Ray: Now it’s that time of year, when people are also thinking about their annual charitable donations and I know there is one organization that is special to your family. Can you talk about which organization that is and why, and let people know if they are interested in learning more whom to contact?

Anna: Our son was born with a rare genetic disorder, and there have been so many people and organizations that have supported us. The Lucille Packard Foundation for Children’s Health does such amazing work. Helping children and their families that are challenged with health issues, especially during the holidays, is very meaningful to us. For more information about their incredible work, you can visit their website at www.lpfch.org.

We would also like to encourage everyone to become an organ donor if you aren’t already. One family made the decision on behalf of their nine-year old for that child to be an organ donor and due to that decision, in the most heart-breaking of moments, our son has a new liver and has been able to grow and flourish.

Ray: Thank you both for your time and all you do for our community in Menlo Park. Happy Holidays!

Ray Mueller has served on the Menlo Park City Council since 2012; he began his second term as Mayor in December. This is the second of a series of conversations he’ll be having with experts, residents and business owners. And as a reminder, shop local this holiday season!

Photo by Linda Hubbard (c)2018

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