When a person has to have surgery, it’s off to a nearby hospital or surgery center.
But when a beloved doll is broken, where do you take a child’s treasured friend?
Connie Harrell hopes people visit her family’s business, the Doll Cradle in Shawnee. The store offers repairs — and dolls and all things for them including clothing, accessories, furniture and treatment.
“We’re the oldest doll hospital in the Midwest,” Harrell said. “We do doll repairs as far away as Chicago.… We have the knowledge of how they’re made and constructed so we can repair them.”
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Harrell usually charges a $25 minimum to repair a doll, but there is some flexibility.
The Doll Cradle even has a full-sized ambulance in its parking to alert customers about the hospital.
“It took me quite a while to find the ambulance,” she said. “We try to have fun when fixing the dolls … but we try to be professional.”
Harrell and her staff will try to fix about any doll ailment, regardless of the doll’s value.
“A lot of times they don’t have monetary value but they do have sentimental value,” she said.
It was 1970 when Harrell’s mother, Evelyn Krause, opened the Doll Cradle in Merriam; 16 years ago the store moved to its current location on Johnson Drive in Shawnee.
Q: How did you get into the doll industry?
“As a small child my family collected antiques, and my sister and I collected dolls,” Harrell said. “My mother was always asked to help repair them.”
Harrell and her sister learned how to make dolls.
“My father was German and he made toys. My mother loved sewing,” Harrell said. “We started making costumes and the bodies for porcelain dolls heads.… Later we were making doll kits and our mother was teaching classes in doll making … and we decided to do a store front because we saw there was a real need.”
In the beginning, the Doll Cradle was mother and daughter working together. The shop sold antique and play dolls.
“We started very, very small, but we’ve educated ourselves on the way,” Harrell said. “We try to keep up with all the trends.”
Krause retired from the business in 1985, and the Doll Cradle now has five full-time employees including Harrell and her grown son Randy Harrell. In addition, Harrell works with eight independent contractors who make clothing items and accessories for the shop. One line the store does not sell is the popular American Girl dolls.
“But we do carry a lot of doll furniture and clothing to fit them,” she said.
Q: How has the doll collecting industry changed since your family started in business?
In the early years of the Doll Cradle, Harrell said, doll collecting was very popular. There were Cabbage Patch Dolls, Beanie Babies and more. Over time, the market began to soften.
“Now people are refining the collecting to more quality rather than quantity,” Harrell said. “There’s always room for quality.”
Among the most sought after items are antique and French dolls, she said.
About five years ago Harrell became a certified appraiser so she could provide an additional service to Doll Cradle customers. Recently, Harrell worked on one doll she valued at $24,000.
Q: What have you found to be most challenging operating your own business?
“Finding good employees is challenging, but I think we’ve been able to do that,” she said.
Harrell is often frustrated by the government’s approach to small business.
“I think the government is quite hard on small businesses,” she said.
And while trends change within the doll industry, Harrell said one thing had been consistent in the Doll Cradle’s 44 years in business.
“We strive for a high level of customer service,” Harrell said. “When we fix things, it’s like fixing things for my own grandchild.”
Harrell is proud that three generations of her family have worked at the Doll Cradle.
“We’re good, honest business people,” she said. “We want to teach our customers how to store their dolls and display them properly so they will last.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: The Doll Cradle
ADDRESS: 10910 Johnson Drive, Shawnee
WEBSITE: www.dollcradle.com (under construction)