PASCAGOULA -- It wasn't started on a whim, but the business of books and toys fell into place easily for Tracy Jackson-Wilson.
She has two daughters of the age when reading is so crucial -- Emma, 10, and Piper, 7 -- and she saw a need for books and specialty toys. That's what her business, Whimsy Books & Toys, offers in Pascagoula and east Jackson County.
Her only competitor is Miner's Big Stuff Toy Store in Ocean Springs, and that's 30 minutes away. She doesn't see the large chain stores as real competition, not when a parent is looking for a special birthday present for yet another neighborhood birthday party.
She actually had that problem herself before she opened the store with her mother-in-law, Cathy Johnson.
"We were invited to two birthday parties every weekend, and I needed an outlet for gifts," she said. Also, she believes Pascagoula "needs great things for kids."
So she set about providing just that, at first in Anchor Square, the city's MEMA cottage village that serves as a business incubator.
But after less than a year there, she and Johnson were ready to move to bigger digs and a location that's more in the mainstream.
In August, they set up shop to 3255 Pascagoula St., just south of the railroad tracks in downtown and across the street from the public library.
The business has taken off.
Pondering a train discount
Jackson-Wilson has an app on her iPad cash register that gives analytics on everything the shop is doing. She said 80 percent of her customers are return customers. Still, she is getting a lot of new shoppers from the walk-through traffic.
"It's a great spot," she said, smiling from the brightly lit checkout counter. Light is streaming in through the large front windows and a CSX train is rumbling by.
"Little boys love to stand there and watch the train come through," she said.
"A lot of people get stuck by the train and see our business," she said. "We were thinking of offering a train discount."
A toy store suggested
Jackson-Wilson didn't just fall into the right business. Her first inclination was to follow her talent and open a painted-art furniture store, but her husband nixed that -- too time-intensive and bulky.
Then a seasoned business person suggested a toy store. The city had one on Market Street before Katrina, and it had been successful.
So the aim is to provide the perfect $20 gift, complete with custom gift-wrapping. The shop offers a birthday registry that helps moms with thank-you notes.
The two women started the shop with their savings, so they aren't in debt. They are still building inventory. The overhead is low, the prices are competitive and they are making a profit.
More than half the inventory is $10 or less and there are racks of $5 happies for entertaining children during car trips or rewarding them for good grades.
The shop offers discounts for good report cards -- 35 percent off for A's, 25 percent for A's and Bs and 20 percent for Bs.
"We had a lot of sweet little faces that came in with their report cards and their savings and got more than they thought they would," she said.
Whimsy has space for parties and story time, something Jackson-Wilson wants to expand. There are also tables for a reading hour with crafts.
Right now, the owners are the only two employees, and they cover for each other.
They are sponsors of the city's new Little Free Libraries, small libraries filled with books and placed around town.
Whimsy's hours are 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.