Hilary Key. Photo by Jim Krause


Once an aspiring neuroscientist, Hilary Key chose instead to focus on what makes her most happy — children and philanthropy. The 26-year-old Martinsville, Indiana, native first took ownership of The Toy Chest in Nashville, Indiana, in July 2014. Now she’s opened a second toy store in the College Mall.

She hadn’t planned to open another store, at least not so soon, until the general manager of College Mall approached her with an offer. She and her husband, Danny, a Nashville real estate agent, felt Bloomington would be a good market for a store focusing on educational and high-quality toys, games, and books. The 3,000-square-foot store, which opened in November, also offers science kits, arts and crafts, dolls, and other toys for children of all ages, newborns to teenagers.

“There’s not another store like us in Bloomington,” Key says. “Our feeling about Bloomington is that a lot of people want to shop small. They don’t want to do all their shopping in big discount stores.”

The couple says they hope the store, which carries brand names such as Melissa & Doug educational toys, GUND stuffed animals, Calico Critters, Klutz crafts, and Folkmanis puppets, will attract people who might not otherwise shop at the mall.

When customers purchase any item in either the Nashville or Bloomington stores, they can buy any other item at half-price to be donated to a charity. In Bloomington, toys primarily go to Kids Do Matter, a local nonprofit organization supporting Indiana foster children.

“We believe in the power of play and in kids having the proper toys to play with,” Key says.

It took some soul-searching for Key to change career paths from scientist to entrepreneur. While enrolled in Purdue University’s neuroscience doctoral program in 2012, she recognized she wanted to run a for-profit business with a social cause.

Her days of working as a nanny influenced her choice, as did an incident that occurred when she lived with a family in Africa during a Butler University undergraduate program. The family’s 9-year-old daughter wanted to play. “But she didn’t have a single toy,” Key recalls.

After leaving Purdue, Key took a job at the Nashville store she had visited as a girl, eventually becoming the manager and then the owner.

The new College Mall store, almost three times the size of the Nashville location, has room to let children try out toys and games, put on puppet shows, play dress up, and operate trains.

“It makes people feel more confident in their purchases,” Key says.