By Susie Ling
“June 1, 1991 was the opening day of our store, then called The Dollmakers. Our first location was on Lemon, just east of Myrtle,” said Cindy Ranger, one of the three proprietors of one of the older establishments in Old Town Monrovia. Her two partners at the business – and in life – are her sisters, Pam Fitzpatrick and Jennifer Ranger.
“That Lemon Ave brick building had not been retrofitted. In 1994, the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake happened and the City Planner came to see us. A few days later, we moved to 505 S. Myrtle. Even at 2 a.m., you could still see us – with our customers and friends – moving our stuff up and down the street in our wagons.” Their specialty doll shop stayed at the new Myrtle Avenue location for five years. Then the baseball card shop that was at 412 S. Myrtle closed. “We moved quickly. With the new Krikorian Theater next door, it is a good place for our business, now called The Dollmakers’ Kattywompus.” “Kattywompus” is defined as askew, not arranged correctly, or “kerwonkedy.”
“Pam is our planner. She designed the layout of the new store. She is the brains of our operation.” Pam Fitzpatrick is the oldest of the five Merriam children, all born in Pasadena and graduates of PHS in the “hippie era.” “The second oldest was Nancy, who passed away at the age of 29 years, and the third oldest was Jim, who was invaluable to our shop morning, noon, and night. I’m the fourth and Jennifer is the youngest. Jennifer is always the instigator and she was the first to move to Monrovia,” continued Cindy. Within a year or two, Cindy and her husband bought a home a few doors from Jennifer with a loan from CalVet. By 1987, Pam’s family also moved to Monrovia.
It was Jennifer who wanted to open a small business with her two beloved sisters. After discussing the possibility for a couple of years, Pam – intending to stop her baby sister’s nagging – told Jennifer to go ahead and do the research. Jennifer found the Lemon Avenue storefront in a couple of hours. Pam was a toy designer, specializing in dolls. Cindy operated a daycare center – and admittedly spent 2/3 of her profit on toys. Jennifer was then a piano player who quickly expanded her repertoire into dulcimers, autoharp, and mandolin; you can see the footprint of Kattywompus – a toy shop that teaches music and shares a mega dose of neighborliness.
Over its 27 years, the store has changed emphasis. “In the 1990s, dolls were a good business,” said Cindy. “We focused on high-end collectibles dolls. We then turned to toys. Jennifer also started teaching music. Her band plays outside our store every Friday Fair. Things keep evolving.” Jennifer also sells Auntie Jen’s Homemade baked goods at Kattywompus, and they even have a colorful wall of fun socks. Cindy is the purchaser for Kattywompus and she selects merchandise based on the “oooohh” factor.
Over the last 27 years, Old Town Monrovia has also changed. “Monrovia Old Town was different in the 1990s. There was a Valley Hardware, Pilgrims Gift Shop, Stamping on Cloud Nine, Monrovia Bakery – but businesses come and go. We recently lost Family Affair and Yelena’s Bridal. But now there are all these nice restaurants. In the 1990s, there were empty parking lots and Monrovia was considered ‘sketchy.’” Cindy credits Mayor Bob Bartlett for growing Monrovia and attracting businesses such as Trader Joe’s and Home Depot. Cindy said, “I remember Jennifer claiming that Monrovia will go uphill. She was right. Yes, it took a lot of hard work from many.” In fact, Pam Fitzpatrick has done much for Monrovia. She has had active leadership roles with the Boys and Girls Club, KGEM, Santa Anita Family Service, Chamber of Commerce, and was Monrovia’s 2015 Citizen of the Year. All three sisters are well recognized as Monrovian icons. To add to Old Town’s family spirit, Pam’s son opened Wil’s Sport and Tackle shop up the street on Myrtle.
Cindy said, “We actively court the kids to come in and play at our shop.” The middle of the store is set-up for touching, active playing, and imagination. She shares, “Sometimes an adult comes in, grinning at me… It’ll take me a moment to recognize them as one of our regulars now grown up. We want to welcome everybody. There are some very scary things going on in this world, but hopefully, Monrovia is a little haven. Fourth of July and Halloween attracts a large family crowd to town. Everybody looks different but we are all having fun together.”
Cindy continues, “Every Friday night in front of the store, Jennifer’s band sings songs from different cultures and in different languages. My family is several generations in the San Gabriel Valley, but my Grandpa Joe Murray came to America as an illegal alien when he was 14. Grandma Jessie was an immigrant from Nova Scotia.”
Right on cue, two little sisters dance into the shop and gleefully yell, “Hi Ms. Cindy.” Grandpa straddles in after the girls, explaining that they were at the dentist and the girls just had to make a detour. Grandpa then talks about his travel plans for the summer. He shares, “My mother used to bring my daughter to Kattywompus about 20 years ago. We’ve been coming ever since.”
Note: On July 28 and Aug 25, Kattywompus and friends will perform concerts at Library Park from 7-9 p.m. for free.