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Olde Tyme Commissary taking child’s play seriously

Jackson — Like most entrepreneurs, Sandra Weber remembers vividly when she secured her start-up loan. The event is especially memorable for Weber, owner of Olde Tyme Commissary, for the words of “encouragement” she received from her Greenwood banker.

“He looked at me and said, ‘You know this will never work,’” Weber remembered with a last-laugh look on her face. “That was 34 years ago.”

Today, Olde Tyme Commissary of Jackson Inc. is not so much a small business, but rather a small corporation encompassing four different retail establishments located in two Mississippi cities that employ approximately 60 workers. And, Weber, a unique personality with seemingly boundless energy, is still laughing.

From the old to the young

Weber actually was born in Oxford, but moved to Greenwood as a small child and counts it as her hometown. She graduated from Mississippi University for Women with degrees in English and journalism, and briefly was an English and biology school teacher.

While Weber enjoyed teaching, she had always exhibited a creative flair, perhaps influenced by her mother, who did a little painting and wrote poetry. Weber had a love for antiques, and circa 1970 opened Olde Tyme Commissary in Greenwood.

“At one time, all communities had a store that carried everything,” Weber said. “That was my original vision for Olde Tyme Commissary.”

The company’s immediate specialty was hand-painted antiques, and, despite the banker’s pessimism, Weber did well. In fact, by 1972 she was looking to establish a second location in Jackson. Weber knew nothing about the Capital City, so she took it upon herself to conduct “market analysis.”

“I sat in the parking lots of different locations and counted the cars,” she said with a grin.

In the end, she was struck by Highland Village, which was a pioneering, landscaped retail complex that was brand new then. Not only was the traffic count heavy, Weber fell in love with Highland Village’s ambiance and charm. Olde Tyme Commissary opened there in 1972. (Weber ran the Jackson store from afar in Greenwood until 1984, when the store’s success required more of her time and attention.)

At that point, the company was still selling antiques. But, Weber said keeping inventory on the floor and shelves by going to flea markets and estate sales proved burdensome. Olde Tyme Commissary had always carried some toys. Weber could not recall exactly how it happened, but the company eventually discontinued its antiques and began offering toys exclusively.

More than just toys

While Olde Tyme Commissary concentrates on toys, Weber love for retail and decorating remained. In the early 1980s, she opened Organizers, offering organization products for the home. In the mid-1990s, Weber opened Inside-Out, offering products for the home such as candles, soaps and McCarty pottery. Finally, in 2000 Weber established the boy’s clothing store It’s Time for Boys.

All of these new businesses are located in Highland Village. That changed in 2000 when Olde Tyme Commissary opened a second toy store at Dogwood Festival in Flowood. (Weber gave this advice to fellow entrepreneurs, “Never open two stores in the same year.”)

Olde Tyme Commissary has also enjoyed success in the virtual world. Commissary Toys (www.commissarytoys.com) offers more than 1,500 products online. Olde Tyme Commissary was already routinely pulling people from all over Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and surrounding areas. Now, Weber and her team, which includes her son, Tucker McGeoy, CFO, can count customers from all over the nation.

Not just any toys meet Olde Tyme Commissary’s standards. The company’s mantra is toys should have educational as well as play value. It specializes in merchandise that teaches, and, a holdover from the original store, offers hand-painted toys and products.

Weber said Olde Tyme Commissary has proven that toys can be educational and fun. “The stupidest question I hear is parents who ask, ‘Are you ready to leave?’ I had a six-year-old come in with a grandmother the other day, and the child just walked around wide-eyed going, ‘I can’t believe what I am seeing.’

“I love people, especially kids. I seem to have a connection with them — they respond to me. My measure of success is if I’ve treated people nicely all day, and they leave with a smile on their face. I want enough money to pay my bills and maybe travel every now and then. But, it’s not about the money. It’s about the happiness.”

Weber gives a lot of credit for Olde Tyme Commissary’s success to Highland Village and owner Jimmy Fowler. “I could not imagine being anywhere else,” she said.

She also credits her son and his work. Not only CFO, McGeoy also does much of Olde Tyme Commissary’s product research. If customers are wowed by the merchandise, it is a tribute to his hard work and dedication.

McGeoy will inherit Olde Tyme Commissary when Weber retires. She recently remarried, labels herself “blissfully happy” and, thus, her future vision for Olde Tyme Commissary is much the same as her goals today.

“I have a lot of fun doing what I’m doing,” she said. “My expectations have been exceeded. I wish I could say I had a great business plan when I started, but I didn’t. So, I’m thrilled with our success.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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