‘People often pop in out of curiosity then go on a journey of discovery with us,’ says Antonella Ghelardi. The proprietor is always happy to help anyone who looks a little lost. She can find the perfect gift for everyone.
Antonella opened a toy shop on Fortunagasse in 2001. But it was a little off the beaten track so there was a lack of passing trade. After four years Antonella moved Mr. Pinocchio to Niederdorf, where she now employs four staff.
Antonella is originally from Rome, where she studied architecture and then herbal medicine. She worked as an architect in the Italian capital for a while, but romance soon led her to Switzerland: ‘My husband and I spent more than three years commuting between Rome and Zurich by train. Then we decided to live together in Switzerland,’ she explains. Antonella doesn’t miss working as an architect – that was all a long time ago. When she first moved to Switzerland, the herbalist and mother of two began producing organic tea blends for children.
She is always happy to help customers with special requests – such as the recent delivery of children’s books in Persian.
Antonella also liked to read her young children stories in Italian, but: ‘In those days it was very difficult to get foreign-language children’s books. I had to bring boxes of them from Italy.’ Soon Antonella realised that she was not the only one with this problem. So she abandoned the tea business and set up a children’s bookstore selling books in various languages, along with a range of toys.
Nowadays, German publishers offer children’s books in different languages, so it is easier for Antonella to buy them. At Mr. Pinocchio she mainly sells children’s books in Italian, German, English, Spanish and French. But Antonella also has a stock of books in Serbo-Croat, Russian and even Arabic. She is always happy to help customers with special requests – such as the recent delivery of children’s books in Persian.
On her regular travels, Antonella is always on the lookout for special books, toys and quirky souvenirs for adults.
This is precisely the secret of Mr. Pinocchio’s success: it sells things that customers can’t find elsewhere. On her regular travels, Antonella is always on the lookout for special books, toys and quirky souvenirs for adults: ‘I love it when I come across unusual things,’ she says.
For example, she saw some unusual wooden watches at the Museum of Modern Arts in New York and contacted the artist directly. She buys her Timberkits from Wales – mechanical model kits made of wood that even high school teachers buy for their pupils to work on. Music boxes from France, miniature porcelain tea sets from Italy and handmade magnetic wooden puppet theatres from the Czech Republic can also be found at Mr. Pinocchio: ‘The range varies depending on what I find where,’ says Antonella.
‘Toy trends change fast – one minute people are asking for owls, then unicorns, and then they want flamingos.’
‘Toy trends change fast – one minute people are asking for owls, then unicorns, and then they want flamingos.’ But there are also plenty of old-fashioned toys to rediscover at Mr. Pinocchio – such as aqua arcade games, polystyrene planes, Slinkies, paper dolls to dress, and toys made of sheet metal and wood. ‘I sell a lot of toys that I know from my own childhood,’ says Antonella. These toys bring back memories for customers, who jump at the chance to buy them for their own offspring.
It was Antonella’s daughter who came up with the name Mr. Pinocchio. The owner loved it straight away: ‘It’s a fun name because of the fairy tale. It also echoes my Italian roots and shows that we have a multilingual range of products.’