photography by Jordan Weiland

Most of the Lakelander Made nominees highlighted in this issue have given our readers great ideas of how to shop locally and find unique gifts this holiday season. While many of them offer home goods and products geared toward loved ones that may be over the age of four, Papa’s Shop is a unique maker who caters to true childlike spirits.

Founded by Vincent Cotton (aka Papa) and daughter Amy Allison, Papa’s Shop crafts children’s play pieces, such as kitchen stovetops and refrigerators, with a nostalgic finish. It’s likely any child that would enter Papa’s Shop just might mistake it for Santa’s workshop.

The Lakelander: What inspired you to create Papa’s Shop?

Amy: In 2012, my daughter Evelyn was enrolled in the early childcare program at St. Paul Lutheran, and they were having their annual fundraiser. Her teacher wanted to create something special for their classroom, as an auction item, and she showed me a picture from Pinterest that was one of those DIY play kitchens that someone had made from an old television console. I looked at it and told her that my dad could make something like that, but even better. And he did. It was a big hit, and it just kind of started from there. We had the kitchens, we created the workbench which I just love, and the Mommy’s Little Helpers. We had a contest to name the business.

We entered a few local craft fairs, which were encouraging, but we realized that they weren’t the best place to sell the play pieces. So we went to New York last February for the Toy Industry Association’s Toy Fair. That was a lot of fun and put us in front of hundreds of retailers, and that’s also where we connected with Magna-Tiles.

TL: How long have you been working in your craft? How did you get started?

Papa (Vince): I was newly married — this was the early ’70s, in Pittsburgh — and was enjoying the short-lived affluence of a twopaycheck household before we had children. My brother-in-law, a loan officer at the local bank, persuaded me that the most important thing for me to do in the whole world was to establish good credit — I had to come see him right away and borrow some money. He may have been trying to make his monthly quota. The next thing I knew, I had what looked like the whole high school wood shop crammed into a single-car garage. I bought table saws, a drill press, radial arm, disc and belt sander, all of it. The car was outside covered in a foot of snow.

TL: What’s unique about your creations?

Papa: Out of the over 400 manufacturing companies at this year’s Toy Fair, only 17 were toys made in the USA. Just 17. That really struck us. So we are really proud that we can say we our products are made in the USA. Also, our products have been fully tested and comply with ASTM F963 stringent standards for toy safety. No heavy metals. No formaldehyde. No choking, pinching, or tipping hazards. Everything we produce is handmade, heavy-duty, solid, heirloom-quality furniture designed to be passed on to future generations.

TL: Tell us about your creative process. Walk us through how you move from an idea to a finished product.

Amy: Well, I have the easy part which is to pick paint colors and fabric. That’s something that I can have fun with all day long. And we make it clear on the website and when we talk to customers that fabrics will vary. We do not mass produce curtains. We also take custom orders for those customers who want to match the play kitchen with their own kitchen or whatever they may have in mind. The real creative process, I think, happens in the wood shop.


Papa: I usually go straight to the shop with an idea, sketch out a rough design on the white paper I use to cover my work bench. This is mostly used to get the right proportion for the intended user. Then straight to the scrap pile and table saw. I like to see my vision take shape quickly in three dimensions. Then I study the rough mockup of the project, sleep on it a bit, usually have an epiphany about 4:00 a.m. The next mockup is more refined and can be used as a test piece. Back to the drawing board (work bench) to play Henry Ford and further refine the design and fabrication techniques. I strive to design a production process that gives consistent high quality, and is controlled and repeatable.

TL: What’s the most enticing part of living, working, and creating in Lakeland?

Papa: I have a comfortable, year-round, open-air shop where I spend countless hours creating fun stuff. I don’t have to dig the car out from under a foot of snow. I don’t have to walk across town into a minus-14degree wind to peddle my wares.

Amy: It’s a great time for Lakeland, in terms of creating and living. At one time — not even that long ago — it was hard to find something unique with all of the chain restaurants and big box stores. But that’s changing, and it’s exciting.

TL: Where’s your favorite place in Lakeland?

Amy: My favorite part of Lakeland is downtown, between the months of November and May, when the weather is cooler and there seems to be something happening every weekend.


To purchase items from Papa’s Shop,

visit or call the shop at 863.640.3673.