The unique store, strategically located by the stairs and escalators that connect the Riverwalk's lower level with its second tier of businesses, acts something like a magnet to browsers pulled in by the sight of model airplanes, old-fashioned toddler pedal cars and a cornucopia of decorative items inspired by long-loved cartoon, literary and real-life characters from the past.
There's a framed photograph of the Three Stooges playing golf, another of Jackie Gleason and Arnold Palmer and other nostalgic artworks of children's scenes by artists Bob Byerley and Charles Peterson. Bronze statues range from life-size sculptures of two children on a park bench with a book to smaller animals and characters. Bronze and metal weathervanes are big sellers as well as specialty signs and other accessories that relate to specific professions and hobbies.
"It's a very unique store," says Deborah A. Johnston, who has managed the business since it opened almost two years ago. "People say all the time that they've never seen a store like this." She characterizes it as part toy store and part upscale gift shop, all in a museum-like setting.
When customers first enter they are greeted by the musical strains of Glenn Miller from the 1940s and '50s emanating from an old-fashioned gramophone. All over the store are high-quality bronze statues, well-appointed displays of toys and boundless nostalgic reproductions of antiques all grouped into themed sections such as nautical, aviation, sports and professions.
"People often come in and say it reminds them of a museum," Johnston says. "A lot of them will stay for 20 or 30 minutes just looking around. I think part of the ambience is the way we combine items and present them in a museum setting." That's the feeling customers get when they view the reproductions of vintage Disney character tin toys displayed in an old-fashioned wood-and-glass case or the myriad articulated airplane models that are hung around the showroom.
There are also new takes on the old. For instance, CD towers -- hot-selling items -- come in lots of versions, including some with sculpted images of Popeye or Betty Boop as well as other, more refined styles, that hide the music disks behind a glass door that displays tasteful music mementos. Other unusual collectibles include sculptures of farm machines like tractors made by an artist in Kansas and miniature steel sculptures of hobbies and professions by an artist in Germany.
"It's the toy store for adults, but it's not at all X-rated," Johnston says. "Men love this store. They'll come in and spend a long time just looking around." Unlike a museum or typical gift shop, however, A Simpler Time also caters to youngsters. "We welcome children here. We have coloring books and toys set out for them to play with."
Because of its location in the Riverwalk near the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, many of the store's customers are from out of town and are looking for unique items to take home as souvenirs or to decorate their homes. "A lot of the stuff in the store can be personalized, such as signs dealing with professions," Johnston says. "And a lot of people come in to decorate their game rooms or mothers come here to decorate their children's rooms. We have a lot of nostalgic items and things you don't see often. If we start seeing our merchandise in other stores we stop carrying it. We try to keep it unique."
The store also focuses on customer service, including shipping large items for out-of-town customers, helping to personalize items and being attentive to customers while they're in the store. After operating the shop for almost two years, Johnston says she still has the same staff she hired when the store first opened.
You never know what you'll find at A Simpler Time, whether you're attracted to a sheriff's badge, a replica of an antique baby doll carriage, an old score board for a billiards room or a whimsical statue for your favorite plumber.
"It's like crawling into your grandmother's attic," Johnston says. "There's definitely something for everyone here, but nothing you really need."