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Maison Serneels, 50 Years of Wonder, for Young and Old Alike


By Jeroen Coteur , Toys & Games , Toy Trade Magazine (Belgium)

Every large city or metropolis in the world has its own exclusive toy store. But according to countless international stars and personalities, the most wonderful one of them all is located in Brussels. And this year, it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. 50 years of pure joy and wonderment for the little ones -- and also for their parents and other adults who are truly young at heart.   

Today, Maison Serneels, which is what this story is about, has grown into a real institution, unquestionably an advertisement for Brussels, on the same level as sights such as the Atomium, the Grand Place, or Manneken Pis. In order to celebrate its anniversary, a book is being published with an overview of the shop's history and an introduction of 25 timeless toy pieces which have also come along for the ride in this grand journey through time.

The Family Creed
In order to satisfy his deep fascination with toys, Edmond Serneels opened a toy store on the  Guldenvlies Street in 1959, after the Fischer-Price line of toys had crossed the Atlantic Ocean. At that time, the few specialised toy stores stocked their shelves mainly with electric trains and educational toys, while other products were sold in bazaars, hardware stores and print shops.

However, Edmond Serneels had something else in mind - a virtual Ali Baba's cave that was set aside for quality toys. For him, toys had a significant function in the development of children, and that is why he wanted to offer only the best toys possible. Serneels implemented an ethic that became the trademark of his business: no short-lived toy fads, gadgets or other trendy trivialities, no replicas of weapons... but toys that were designed to be durable and that had a story to tell - just the right experience in the hands of a child. This credo is continued on today by his children Alain and Brigitte Serneels. After moving to the Wiltcher's location adjacent to the Conrad Hotel on Avenue Louise, they continued the following in their father's footsteps as a matter of honour - only offering toys of quality that emphasise genuine knowhow on the part of the toymakers, the overwhelming majority of which are skilled craftsmen.

International Recognition
"Today, we work with approximately 200 suppliers, some of whom who have been with us since the founding of Maison Serneels. This has been a long-term cooperation with partners, many of whom have become our close friends," explains Alain Serneels. "It's a real pity that these craftsmen are disappearing from the market. It's a development that also affects shops like us. Shops like ours, you don't find in the world very much anymore. By the joy and fun of the children and their parents that come here is certainly not on the decline. Just like with all the praise we get, whether it comes from your average Joe who wants to let his kids play with the same toys he once played with, or if it comes from international stars and personalities. You know, when you have an authority like former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who shuts down nearly the entire neighbourhood so she can come by, or when Celine Dion, after a three-hour visit to the store, tells you that she has never seen anything like it on any of her world tours -- this is when you can say nothing but that your father was a visionary and that the choice for high-quality and traditional toys surely has a future," adds Serneels.

For Kids, Large and Small
So what lies inside the Ali Baba's cave that is Maison Serneels? Simply put, the toy is elevated to an art form here... you can find truly magnificent toys for babies in shiny fabric, beautiful, solid wooden toy pieces, or plush animals that look even more real than natural ones. If the child is a little bigger, he or she can go on a legendary adventure dressed in handsome fairy tale costumes, handmade by real artisans. As far as the classics go, little girls will be astonished at the selection of dolls. Beds, children's beds, buggies, cooking ovens, tea sets, cookware and other accessories give them opportunities to develop homemaking skills. Maison Serneels also dedicates space to the exclusive creations of skilled craftsmen. You can find, for example, magnificent toy chests and hand-painted and ornamented marionette theatres, a large selection of artisan-made music boxes, a truly nice series of Provencal santon figurines, hand-spun wooden tops, and even authentic English croquet sets. Serneels features a broad range of educational games that can be played alone or with friends. Painting, lacing beads, learning how to make stamp art, or mosaics... a whole lot of enjoyment that you can take with you for your whole life. But it's not just the kids who enjoy themselves! That is certainly illustrated by the ladies who take a great interest in the fabulous dollhouses here. All the while, dads and granddads will be captivated by the intricate steam engines, old replicas of metal toys, miniature cars, or well-organised armies of little tin soldiers. And let's not forget the wide selection of classic parlour games: chess, checkers, backgammon, and more... and you could even make space for a roulette wheel or blackjack table, just like in a real casino.

50 Years, and Longer?
A great deal of these toys make an appearance in the tremendous book that is being printed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Maison Serneels. This work covers the history of Maison Serneels as well as 25 legendary toy pieces that have been over the course of these 50 years. These timeless toys can inspire the dreams of one child while sharing secrets with another. In any case, they always spread joy and happiness among our children and grandchildren. As much as the future is to some extent unclear, one could never imagine for a second that a showpiece of that nature would ever disappear from our collective memory. But the issue of family succession has not been settled. Alain's son has chosen a career in the communications industry and Brigitte's small children are still young and have yet to make their choices for the future. For the happiness of our youngest little angels, we wish that your editor's successor has the pleasure of being able to visit Maison Serneels on its 100th birthday...

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