Rutabaga Toy Library just might be one of the happiest places in East Falls – and all of Philadelphia. Once you walk through the doors, you’re transported into a colorful, playful world.
Bright red, blue, and green ribbon chandeliers sway from the ceiling. A string of pink and white paper hearts hang behind the checkout counter. There’s a group of children listening to a story towards the back and a few others are rolling wooden trucks over the carpet. Along the walls, the shelves and bins contain the main attraction – over 1,800 toys, games, puzzles, and books all available to borrow for ages 0 to 8 years old.
Krystal Cunillera founded Rutabaga Toy Library as an eco-friendly solution to build community among families in the neighborhood.
For a monthly fee, Rutabaga members can check out items, take them home, and trade them in for something new. This circular, zero-waste business model cuts down on clutter and keeps unnecessary waste out of landfills.
“Once I had children, I realized how much I was marketed to and how much waste there is added into your life,” says Krystal. “You don’t need to buy the latest toy – we have a similar toy here that’s been around for years and isn’t going to go in the trash right away.”
And while Rutabaga is designed with children at the center, it’s a space for grownups and families to connect, too. Rutabaga hosts storytimes, family game nights, birthday parties, a summer camp, and a New Baby Meetup group for parents navigating the early days and months of parenthood. In fact, that’s how Rutabaga started almost ten years ago.
After the birth of her first child in 2014, Krystal joined breastfeeding support groups in West Philly and the Main Line. “That first year is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. And it’s so isolating. Society puts so much pressure — especially on moms — to look like you’re doing it flawlessly and meet all these fake milestones.” The parents she met at these support groups were a lifeline.
After the birth of her second child two years later, Krystal wanted to find a community closer to home in East Falls. She also noticed more and more parents pushing strollers around the neighborhood. That’s when she decided to form a group for East Falls parents to connect with each other, leverage their collective wisdom, and lean on each other for support during challenging times.
Later that year, in the upstairs space of Vault + Vine on Midvale Avenue, about eight moms attended Krystals’ first New Baby Meetup. At the first meeting Krystal simply asked the attendees “how are you doing?” and let the conversation flow from there. “It’s amazing when you get parents together, how much confidence you gain and how the isolation can kind of disappear,” she says.
Krystal found her calling as the facilitator of these conversations and connector between parents and families. Over time she decided to evolve the meetup group into a sustainable, socially conscious business. When Krystal learned about a toy library and gathering space in Austin, Texas she knew this was something she could create for her community in Philadelphia.
Krystal got to work and secured a retail space, registered the business, acquired and cataloged toys, and developed a plan to launch. Rutabaga held their grand opening in late 2019 and was able to use the slow period during the pandemic to refine business operations. Now, Krystal is focused on growing the business’ impact with that original mission to connect parents and families at the forefront. And through her vision and her heart, she is a living, breathing demonstration of how small businesses can bring people together and are an important part of the solution for some of our world’s largest problems.
“Families are looking for resources, community, and ways to connect for their children. The most special thing is to be in the neighborhood and say hello to the little ones that I know from here. This is my happy place,” says Krystal.
Everyday East Falls is a series of monthly profiles of the people behind some of our neighborhood businesses. We hope these stories give you a deeper understanding and appreciation for the businesses that call our neighborhood home.
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