In Old Town Square lies a tiny shop full of gadgets and gizmos called Science Toy Magic. Nose prints on the front window are visible but only in a certain light, and owner Matt Hannifin, 51, is amused but not surprised to see them.
“This is the tiniest store to ever amaze you,” Hannifin said, comparing his shop to the size of a closet.
Science Toy Magic opened in December, and Hannifin often touts documentation showing that his store is the first in the U.S. to carry 14 of the dozens of science-based toys sold in the shop, including an anti-gravity top.
Hannifin is willing to put on a show outside the shop for the drifters in Old Town. When no one comes in, Hannifin sometimes performs on his unicycle, carrying along some of his toys to demonstrate right outside his store.
“Would you like to see a top float in mid air?” he asks passing shoppers. Some say yes, others keep walking.
Hannifin doesn’t let the rejections get him down; instead when he does capture the attention of shoppers, he teaches the rules of science regardless of their age.
“I like it when people don’t talk down to me,” said Henrique Barreto, a Ph.D. student in education and human resource studies. “(Hannifin’s) enthusiasm for what he does and the scientific explanation adds an interesting aspect.”
Denise Gilbert, a junior English and education major, said she was surprised that such a small shop could be so entertaining.
“It’s really cool how he’s not only a business man, but he knows how to market his products, too,” Gilbert said.
Despite the difference in age and experience, these CSU students promised they would be back for more.
He’s not only getting the attention of customers but of tenants as well. Wayne Wagner, the owner of Four Season Hammocks, who sets up a cart in the same vicinity, said he’s a good addition to Old Town.
“(Hannifin) is just this great entertainment for the Square and a positive influence to all its inhabitants,” Wagner said.
According to his niece, Kelly Hannifin, he’s not so different as an uncle as he is a performer on Old Town Square. Kelly Hannifin is a sophomore at the University in Texas in Austin, studying for her biology degree.
“He is always fun, but his fun always has something to teach you,” Kelly Hannifin said. “He’s also a great person to go to for any science questions.”
Matt Hannifin says he is eager and ready for any physics questions to come his way.
“I canProxy-Connection: keep-alive
ake a concept (a student) is having difficulty getting and tell them from lProxy-Connection: keep-alive
e experience or show them right here in the store an application of that very thing they’re having trouble understanding,” he said.
He obtained most of his teaching experience as a college preparatory physics teacher at the Native American Preparatory School in Santa Fe, N.M.
The school closed in 2002, a year before Hannifin opened Science Toy Magic in Santa Fe, the precursor of his store in Old Town.
Hannifin describes it as being much smaller than the Fort Collins location, and although he loved the store, he had to close the doors early last year.
After seven years of good business, the Santa Fe’s city government set up an ordinance that boosted minimum wage. Because of this, Hannifin wasn’t able to provide big raises, bonuses or scholarships to his employees and felt like he had no choice but to move his business.
“I was shocked to hear he was closing down, but I understood,” said former employee Daniel Aguilar, 20. “I remember it was a very surreal feeling, very eerie and empty. I was sad that the store was closing. The customers felt the same way.”
Aguilar, a student at New Mexico State University worked at Science Toy Magic for four years. He said, “For such a tiny shop it had a huge heart.”
While it was difficult, Hannifin had to make the hard decision.
“(It was) not by choice; I had to close it down,” he said.
After the sudden closure in Santa Fe, Hannifin searched for the perfect city. In eight months, he went on 48 out-of-town trips and researched on the Internet and in magazines.
“I was afraid that I would not find my Fort Collins,” Hannifin said.
But when he found the perfect spot in Old Town, he knew it immediately.
“I found there was a niche that needed to be filled that would complement the other businesses and still provide something that Fort Collins did not have,” Hannifin said of his shop, which is one of several unique educational toy stores in town, including Learning Express, Sprig, the Children’s Mercantile and more.
Hannifin came to Fort Collins specifically because he said he “smelled money,” but this science shop owner said he does not let his need for money ruin his passion for teaching.
“If I wanted to make more money, I’d do something else like be a stock broker,” Hannifin said. “I make enough money to make a living. This (store) is what’s important to me.”
Staff writer Stacey K. Borage can be reached email@example.com.
Science Toy Magic, LLC.
Where: 11 Old Town Sq.
(Next door to Zydeco’s)
Hours: Wednesday – Saturday
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hannifin’s top five tips for young entrepreneurs
“When your products stands out more than others, chances are you’ll be successful,” owner Matt Hannifin said. Here’s a list of tips that he said every business owner should know:
1. Don’t pick something that you don’t like just because you’ll think it will make money: “Choose a thing as a business that you have an interest in doing. Because I crave, because I dig all these things, I learn more about it than other anyone else would ever care to… ”
2. A business plan comes first: “Do not open a business without considering anticipated expenses and anticipated profits so that you can operate for six months without any profit whatsoever.”
3. Know your competition: Hannifin made sure to visit everyone who sold related products in Fort Collins before settling down.
4. Then comes marketing: “Don’t think that just doing your business that people will come and hire you and buy your products,” Hannifin said. “You also have to market your business and if you don’t do that you’re not doing the whole thing . Show them what is different about your product and service.”
5. Keep learning, even after you open shop: “Learn as much as you can,” Hannifin said. “Take information from every available source .”