By Ryan Cornell
WINCHESTER -- John and Linda Kitler are leaving Apple Blossom Mall and they're taking their business with them.
The couple opened a combination Toyriffic and As Seen on TV store in the shopping plaza by Best Buy on Dec. 16. One side sells toys for children while the other is stocked with products hawked on television infomercials.
"Stuff you didn't know you needed until you get in there," said John Kitler.
He said they've owned the Toyriffic store in the mall for the past five years, but have essentially been "squeezed out" by the renovations.
"We got kicked out of our [5,000-square-foot] spot and got put in a 1,300-square-foot location and had a 15-percent rent increase," he said. "So we lost two-thirds in space and increased one-third in rent."
He said they were warned they would be moved again this spring, so they decided to open their own store not far from the mall's parking lot.
"But I don't want to bash the mall," he said. "We can't be there anymore. We have way too much stuff."
Some of that stuff includes the usual plush toys, puzzles and crafts, but the store is also home to an array of educational products.
Linda Kitler said they sell a line of excavation kits, which kids can use to "dig up" toy bones or eggs from clay, as well as geode rocks that kids can break open and find crystals.
Another product they offer is the My Spy Birdhouse, which sticks to the window and lets kids and birders watch their feathered friends move in.
The specialty shop sells toys geared toward children with disabilities, such as books with textures.
Their new location might be in the shadow of another toy store, but John Kitler isn't worried.
"We're not trying to compete with Toys R Us, we're out to complement them," he said.
He said they're the only store in Winchester to sell Stuffies, stuffed animals with zippered pockets to hold belongings.
While his wife is in charge of the toys, he handles the As Seen on TV products, including testing all of them out.
Linda Kitler said they're able to discourage their customers from buying a product if it doesn't work well.
"He knows which ones are good and which ones aren't," she said about her husband. "We won't order it if it's not going to do well for the customer."
She mentioned the No!no! hair removal system, Spin Mop and Belly Burner weight loss belt as three products they no longer offer after failing their test.
There are also products that they like so much they take them home, such as the Potato Express, a microwaveable bag that bakes potatoes in four minutes, or the Bacon Bowl, a Teflon dome that can make bowls out of bacon strips and what John Kitler referred to as the "hottest item right now."
"We're not going to buy it for a whole bunch of people if we don't like it," he said.
Where: 613, 615 E. Jubal Early Dr., Winchester
When: 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Mon.-Sat.; Noon-6 p.m., Sun.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org