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Shop Small: Madison artisan shapes old-fashioned wooden toys

MADISON – After three decades, Shane Knox was done with the daily grind managing fast-food restaurants. He walked away from the culinary world and into one which also invited imagination – woodworking.

Not just whittling, of course, but into a new career as a toymaker.

“I’d had enough and quit with no plan other than to spend a month ‘at leisure,’ ’’ Knox says on his website at www.knoxhandmadetoys.com, which will be at Toyota Field for the Trash Pandas’ Winter Wonderland through Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kay Ivey proclaimed support for local business throughout the state by declaring Saturday as Small Business Saturday.

To occupy his time after leaving the food business and contemplating his next move, Knox built some tools for wood making and spent his days making toy cars. Once he had a sizable pile he was struck with an idea. He’d try to turn his new hobby into a living.

(Knox Handmade Toys/Facebook)

“I was pretty sure I didn’t want a job at all,” Knox said. “My wife’s response was, “What, are you going to sell toy cars for a living?’ ” 

Shane and his wife, Jessica, sort of scoffed at the notion but pretty soon decided to give it a try. The couple’s first attempt to start a business selling the cars at a flea market didn’t net any monetary profits but wasn’t a total loss. 

As Shane tells it, “There was that one little girl who said, ‘I like the cars but do you make a train?’

“I had nothing else to do, so I made a train, and then another and another and so on. Next thing I knew we were going to farmers markets and selling a few toys, making new contacts and getting new ideas for toys.”

Jessica, who had worked for a quarter century in the hospitality industry, joined her husband in a full-time capacity. The two now run their toy business Knox Handmade Toys and have an inventory that includes cars, trains, planes, tractors, trailers and made-to-order items.

“We are both very proud of the toys we make for kids of all ages and love seeing your eyes light up as you realize how fun, durable, and educational our toys are,” she said. “We are also excited to now both be walking the same path together through Knox Handmade Toys.

“We have plans for growth, personally and professionally, but for now we are just enjoying the trail we are creating for ourselves.”

Meanwhile, Ivey’s proclamation encourages Alabamians to celebrate and support the impact small businesses have on communities across the state.

 “Small Business Saturday serves as an important reminder of the immense value our local businesses bring to our state,” she said. “These enterprises play a pivotal role in our state’s economy, driving innovation, providing employment and preserving the vitality of our communities.

“I encourage all Alabamians to spend locally Saturday. To put it plainly, when you support an Alabama small business, you invest in our communities, our state and our people.”

Back in Madison, Knox buys wood at Hobby Hardware Alabama, which bills itself a “family owned sawmill and lumber operation specializing in producing some of the highest grade wood domestic and exotic lumber in the country.”

Knox toys, which are made without any metal and are not painted, are sold online at events that can be found at their website. They offer products daily at The Camp in MidCity.

Among upcoming events are the North East Alabama Craftsmen’s Association (NEACA) show at the Von Braun Center Dec. 1-3, and ChristKindleMarket at the Orion Amphitheater Dec. 8-10.

In June, a daughter was born into the growing Knox family. The company’s online inventory is lower than usual as Shane has spent time with his family but will have “plenty to play with at these local events.”

Jessica wrote on www.knoxhandmadetoys.com that if “you are looking for a specific toy but don’t see it available, please reach out with the toy you are looking for so we can make sure to focus on that item as we restock. We deeply appreciate your patience this year as we work to balance the demands of our small business with taking the time to care for and bond with our youngest daughter.”

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