Creating Magic: An interview with Ginger Milligan, owner of Fantasy Island Toys

Ginger Milligan owns Fantasy Island Toys in Fairhope, one of the South’s favorite neighborhood toy stores.

“My mother always had some form of a business in downtown Fairhope while I was growing up,” said Ginger Milligan, who joined the family business in 1986 and has been at the helm since 2008.

Ginger’s mother, the late Jeane Duke Byrd, started by selling wooden decoupage boxes and decoupage supplies in a Fairhope storefront named Jeane’s.

Then a salesman came through and convinced her to add wooden doll houses to her offerings. She “started out with wooden doll houses and all this fun collectible little furniture,” her daughter recalls. “People would come from a very wide area to buy these houses, and they would add wallpaper and curtains and lighting. It was a huge industry.”

The salesman then persuaded Jeane to add large-scale model trains manufactured in Germany by LGB. “The same salesman waited about six months and sold her first doll line. And that’s all it took. After that, my mom was just totally into it and loved the toy industry,” said Ginger.

The toy store operated under the name Jeane’s before being renamed Fantasy Island Toys after a popular TV show in the late 1970s, a show that has been reinvented this year.

She just wanted someplace magical for children,” said Ginger, who continues to honor her mother’s vision. “Our philosophy has always been to provide the absolute best toys for children in a safe, fun environment.”

“I like providing a fun, relaxing environment for people to pick out quality toys for their children. When I go shopping, I like it when the store owner talks to me about what I’m buying.”


Making the Magic Happen

Ginger Milligan and her team at Fantasy Island Toys love helping customers choose just the right toy and making sure they have “a totally great experience.”

In the toy world, no time is more magical than Christmas, which means Ginger and her Fantasy Island Toys team stay busy in the final quarter of the year. “Christmas is such a child-related holiday,” toy stores in general don’t experience market dips during that time of year, she said.

Right after Labor Day this year, Ginger said she began encouraging customers if they saw something that they wanted for their child or grandchild for Christmas to go ahead and buy it or put it on layaway. The store began to get holiday shipments in August in anticipation that certain items might be delayed or not arrive at all due to lingering supply chain issues related to the pandemic. “That’s the only way to guarantee I’m going to have enough product to get through to Christmas is to go ahead and take it early,” she said.

National Neighborhood Toy Store Day, which this year is Saturday, Nov. 13, starts the prime toy-buying season. That is quickly followed by the city of Fairhope’s two-day holiday kickoff, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20th, with the movie “Polar Express” playing on Fairhope Avenue in the event known as “Movie in the Street.”

Downtown Fairhope’s Christmas Open House begins at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21, the weekend before the main event.

Thanksgiving weekend is the biggest weekend for us of any weekend all year long,” Ginger said, adding “68% of our total income for the year is made in October, November and December.”

Coming off double-digit sales growth last holiday season and even into the spring and summer of this year, “we’re going to have the strongest fourth quarter that we have ever experienced,” she predicts.

We don’t even take a day off the entire month of December,” Ginger said of her team, which grows from six to eight each year in the final month of the year, “Nobody’s off. It’s seven days a week from Thanksgiving weekend, all the way through Christmas Eve.

All we can do is focus on getting the toys out of the boxes in the warehouse, getting them out front and then making sure every customer who comes in gets exactly what they had in mind,” said Ginger, whose store draws customers from the entire Eastern Shore area. Fantasy Island Toys also “wraps, tags and ships” all over the United States, she said. Her customer base is 75% local and 25% “extras,” which includes tourists and online shoppers.

From Nurse to Choosing Toys for an Entire Group of Stores

Ginger and her staff hand select each toy to provide the best quality of play.

My sister started working at Fantasy Island Toys before I did,” Ginger said. Kathie Byrd was in the banking industry but came to work for her mother in the late 1970s. Kathie took over all the bookkeeping duties, Ginger said.

Ginger began her work life as a nurse, still her mother and sister got her into the toy store even in that capacity. “They asked me if I would wear my nursing uniform with my hat. I came in with my stethoscope … and conducted a new baby wellness clinic” for Cabbage Patch dolls, Ginger said. “That was my first adventure.”

By 1986 with a child and a husband who traveled frequently, Ginger said, “It just got harder and harder to work shift work at the hospital.” When asked if she would help expand the family toy business, Ginger agreed.

Together, Jeane, Kathie and Ginger grew the business to four stores – in Fairhope, Mobile, Perdido Key and the Sandestin Beach Resort. “It was a true family business at that point,” said Ginger. They built Christmas floats for Fairhope’s annual parade, threw a community Halloween party and otherwise fulfilled their mission to create magic.

It is fun to have all those different locations,” Ginger said, but four stores quadrupled the work. When the commute became too much, they closed the stores farthest from their Fairhope base first. After Jeane Byrd died in 2000 and Hurricane Ivan flooded the Spring Hill area of Mobile in 2004, the sisters closed the Mobile store as well.

When a 2008 car accident left Kathie unable to work, Ginger took over operations. “Kathie is the president of my advisory panel now,” said Ginger. “She is always a phone call away. I wouldn’t want to do it without her.”

While Ginger didn’t start out in the toy business, she’s been all in for 36 years. She is even co-product director for The Good Toy Group, a member-owned cooperative of independent toy stores across the United States and Canada. She helps choose the toys that go into an annual catalog for the 180-storefront membership.

Loves What She Does
Probably the hardest career anybody could pick is retail, but I love it,” said Ginger, who also serves as president of the Downtown Fairhope Business Association. “I love the whole picture of it.”

Business overall is exciting,” she said, adding retirement hasn’t even occurred to her. “It is exciting because there is so much of it.

With a single store, Fantasy Island Toys is going to have the strongest year that we have probably had, even more than when we had four stores,” she said.



Number of Employees:
8, plus 2 seasonal

My mom, Jeane Byrd, and my sister, Kathie. I loved working with them all those years. They set high standards for our family business that I honor every day.

Smart Move
Remaining in our same location all these years. “Quirky old” buildings can be frustrating to work in, but customers appreciate familiarity.  We love being in downtown Fairhope surrounded by original buildings.

Learning Moment
Our accountant dropped by for a visit one day and commented, “inventory in your warehouse does not sell. You have too much.” Investing in a “real open to buy” program has been a game changer. (Buying inventory that sells at the right time instead of just making our store look great.)

Wisdom Shared
Slow and steady wins in the end. Provide reasons for customers to return. Kind customer service, quality products and a fun, friendly environment win.

Visit Fantasy Island Toys at 335 Fairhope Ave. in the hub of downtown Fairhope from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Visit online at

Story by Nancy King Dennis
Main photo by Brandon Robbins

This article is the cover story of the
November 2021 Alabama Retailer