Bobb Howard’s General Store owner Eileen Caplin-Wysel said that her hybrid candy-toy-auto repair store does not sell any particular service, rather they sell memories to the people of New Hyde Park.
First opened in 1946, Bobb Howards was simply an auto repair store that also sold gas to residents. Their office had eggs, milk, and cartons of cigarettes piled high on the shelves until Eileen saw a need for a change.
“One day I looked up and realized that there are so many other things that could take-up space on these walls,” Eileen said. “So, we started slowly integrating more candy and toys into the shop to attract a wider client base.”
Despite being in business for over 70 years, the store has managed to keep its shelves filled with the same candy and toys that drew initial crowds.
Because of how prominent the store has been in the community, Eileen said, she and her husband Ronnie, who is also an owner, get calls from old-time candy and toy manufacturers to remain fully stocked year-round.
“We use hundreds of suppliers to help keep the same variety of products that the store has possessed for years since its’ beginning,” she said. “People will always come in looking for their favorite sweets, and those who are now adults will sometimes still have that same reaction they had as a kid when picking them out.”
The toys and candy became an immediate attraction to the residents of New Hyde Park, according to Eileen. Parents would bring their children to the store while their cars were getting fixed, a tradition that has continued on for almost 40 years.
“It’s been so surreal to see members of our community grow with our business,” Eileen said. “The kids we once saw running around our store, picking out Tootsie Rolls and board games now come into the store with kids of their own exploring everything we have to offer.”
Eileen said she and Ronnie have not undervalued the importance of children to the business. Aside from coming in and purchasing games and treats on a regular basis, both owners have made their store a safe haven for the youth, and prioritize their safety and well-being over a few extra dollars.
“We like to think of our store as being a place where kids can go to if they were to ever need anything,” Eileen said. “We would make sure that kids who came in during their lunchtime would go eat a proper meal before spending their money on sweets, and if anyone was ever following them, or they needed a place to stay safe for a little while, they had somewhere to turn to.”
Despite having an older selection of toys for young customers to choose from, Eileen said that their store has been doing well since the dawn of online shopping. Part of that success, she said, is due to the experience and advice that is shown to each customer.
“When you go shopping at a big chain store, or go online for holiday shopping, nobody is going to hold your hand through the process and completely inform you of the product you’re getting,” Eileen said. “Because people today may not be used to seeing our toys around, we are here to help guide customers to exactly what they are looking for. If it’s candy, we offer a sample. If it’s a toy, we offer all the information necessary.”
Bobb Howards has won Blank Slate Media’s Best of North Shore awards for best mom and pop shop, auto repair store, candy store, and toy store. Eileen said that, while awards were never the main goal of the business, she is grateful for each one.
“Each award we win is a reminder of how lucky we are to be in an area with so much support,” Eileen said. “All we want to do is give back to our community for years of patronage, and provide a local service that anyone can benefit from.”
Eileen also said she and Ronnie are grateful for the community’s loyalty over the years. She said that their transparency and reliability within the community has progressed their recognition from simply a unique store to an actual destination for people beyond the community.
“People clearly like us a lot, and like to talk about our communal impact to their friends and family,” Eileen said. “For customers, it is more than just a unique store. We give customers full transparency whether it is the engine in their car to the smallest piece of candy.”