Dominique Dansereau knows better than anyone that for a child, a beloved stuffed animal, plush toy or doll is more than the sum of its parts — it’s something akin to a best friend.
But as much as toys are cherished, they can also be put through the ringer.
“We do a lot of refilling of stuffing, missing eyes, a lot of dog attacks,” said Dansereau. “There was one once that went through a lawn mower. I didn’t even know where to start.”
Dansereau is the in-house seamstress, toy doctor and “miracle worker” at Raplapla, a handmade cloth toy store on Villeneuve Street in Mile End.
A small sign in the window advertises the “hospital for cloth creatures,” where patients are admitted, assessed and treated based on their needs and the needs of their owners.
Dansereau understands the importance of putting on a show, especially for younger kids.
There is an examination table, an intake form, a row of blue beds and even miniature stuffed animals that keep the patients company at night.
There are nine beds at the hospital, but rooms for as many as 18 patients at a time if some creatures are willing to double up.
Raplapla has done repairs on its own line of cloth dolls since the store opened in 2005. Dansereau said so many people came in asking for help patching up other kinds of toys that they expanded their operation.
“We don’t make a lot of money with it, it’s more of a service we do because we care,” she said.
She said that once they started accepting patients of all stripes, everyone was surprised by how many adults came in with requests.
“Half of the toys we get are from adults. They want it to be restored for them to keep,” she said. “It’s a symbol of their childhood.”
Some of the toys in Raplapla’s hospital are up to 60 years old. Two patients, a dog and a bear, have seen better days.
Dansereau is patching the pair up for a mother who has passed them down to her child.
“They came in together so they share a bed,” she said.
Dansereau spends about half her week working on sewing Raplapla’s cloth toys, and the rest of her time fixing, patching, stuffing and hand-washing toys.
Sometimes she has to get a little creative when a fix isn’t as easy as a few stitches or a bit of added plush.
If she can’t repair a patch of fur that’s too far gone, she’ll sew a set of pyjamas or a well-placed patch to cover it up.
Check out some of Dansereau’s successful surgeries:
For Erica Perrot, owner of Raplapla, the cloth toy hospital fits in perfectly with the values of the small neighbourhood operation.
Perrot said that in a consumer culture where it’s easy to replace anything once it breaks, “it’s hard to do that with a toy because there is a sentimental attachment.”
She said people have shipped toys to the store from across the province, parts of Ontario and even France in search of repairs — a testament to their devotion.
It’s a commitment that Perrot understands.
“I’ve always loved the world of childhood,” she said.
She started the business when her own children were young, and she designs all the soft toys in her shop from her own imagination.
The whole operation appears to be built on high spirits — even the store’s name, Raplapla, doesn’t really mean anything, Perrot explains.
“It’s just fun to say,” she said.
Anyone looking to admit a patient to the Raplapla toy hospital is encouraged to make an appointment in advance. Prices for repair work vary based on the kind of toy and the damage. Toys from the last 20 years come in at $1 per minute of repair work, while vintage toys are priced at $2 per minute.