Captain Little an Olympia Icon for Toys, Gifts and Joy


Toys are powerful objects that launch wide smiles and elicit squeals of delight from all ages. Captain Little, a toy store in downtown Olympia, has long been a popular spot for things that bring such joy. Captain Little’s focus is on offering creative play opportunities, community togetherness and heartfelt customer service in a shop that also offers near endless discoveries for multiple generations.

Captain Little Joins the Martin Building Legacy

Doing business in the historical Martin Building and on the site of the also historical Doane’s Oyster House, Captain Little has grown to become a staple in Olympia downtown shopping history. Captain Woodbury Doane opened Doane’s Oyster House in the 1870s at the same location. In 1920, the new, brick Martin Building was built on the same lot. Popular clothing store M. M. Morris occupied the retail space as did a day care at one point. The Captain Little name, endearingly represented in a small mouse captaining a paper boat, connects the store back to the location, bringing it historically full circle.

Captain Little Carries Forward Olympian’s Love for a Hometown Toy Store

Prior to Captain Little, another toy store called Wind Up Here opened in the Martin Building and developed a following. Shoppers were devastated when it closed in 2014.

Captain Little toy store is in the historic Martin Building at 5th Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Olympia. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

“Wind Up Here closed, and people were really sad,” says Michael Tempke, Captain Little buyer and part owner who first began working with Wind Up Here in 2000. “People bought the grid wall off the walls. People were buying everything, to just have a piece. Everything that was left in the entire store could fit in a box. That was all that people left.”

Nearby Compass Rose owner Alana Carr purchased Wind Up Here, and Tempke joined as an employee in the new venture. The transformation from one toy store experience to the next was met with eager anticipation from the public.

“It was great. We had papers over the windows,” Tempke says. “It was a surprise to most people, what they were going to see when the doors opened.”

Hundreds of people lined the sidewalks outside the store when Captain Little opened in August of 2014. Inside they found bright open ceilings highlighting the exposed historical interior design of the Martin Building. Timbered columns that had been previously covered with drywall now showed off their bare appeal. Shiny and polished, the original concrete flooring, previously covered by carpet, showed the record of changes.

The Inside of Captain Little toy store in Olympia, white shelves full of toys
Great for anytime or special occasion gifts, Captain Little toy store has an uplifting atmosphere and a unique collection of toys that support creative play. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Captain Little developed a following for its community with events such as puzzle nights in the winter, craft nights, science nights, holiday parties and sidewalk sales. Captain Little always had an exciting event happening or on the horizon. Those pre-pandemic events are set to start up again. Manager Amy Shephard, who has a background in theater and education is excited to start up the fun again and even add in story times.

“We are a sponsor of Olympia Family Theater this year,” Shephard says. “It means a lot to us to support the arts in our community. We also hope that such sponsorships and collaborations will lead to more opportunities for little showcases, performances and music days in store. We’ve always felt like we’re a really effective community space. Events further encourage that.”

Gift shopping in downtown Olympia at Captain Little is as much fun for the shopper as for the person who receives the gift. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Captain Little customers are connected to the store. Concerned about pandemic financial effects, shoppers offered patronage and inquired about how business was going. Business continued through one holiday shopping season and then another with dedicated customers waiting out in the snow when pandemic restrictions regulated capacity.

Enter a One-of-a-Kind Shopping and Community Experience in Olympia

A tall, yellow robot named Tinker greets everyone at the door. Brio trains, stuffed green dinosaurs, little mouse dolls with hats and outfits and silly clocks along the wall keep everyone’s eyes moving from one fun thing to the next. Just walking through the store has a positive effect.

High and bright open ceilings at Captain Little, timbered columns and original concrete flooring accent the historical interior design of the Martin Building. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

“The first reaction that I hope everybody has when they walk in here is like the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when they walk into the candy room for the first time and gasp,” Shephard says. “For every new person who walks through our front door, that’s what I want their experience to be, and that comes from a combination of atmosphere, product and the people who work here.”

Store layout and merchandise displays are different than most toy stores. Free from cardboard manufacturer display boxes and overwhelming isles, the spotlight is on the toys themselves. Musical instruments designed for kids as well as building and pretending toys give a platform for learning through play. “I think there are a lot of ways for people to learn,” Tempke says. “Sometimes play is the best way for the learning process to happen.”

Part owner Michael Tempke, manager Amy Shephard and employee Ava Gerber at Captain Little in downtown Olympia look forward to more community events in the store. Photo credit: Rebecca Sanchez

Captain Little embraces the history of the location and embraces the gathering space and resource that it also has been for much of Olympia history.Excellent customer service, beautiful customary gift wrapping, a joyful atmosphere and a vast and unique selection makes choosing a gift from Captain Little delight the one who shops for it just as much as the one who receives it.

Check out the Captain Little Facebook page and Instagram for upcoming activities.


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