Rohnert Park toy store becomes gathering place for kids, families
Unsuspecting shoppers at Fundemonium may be startled by occasional cheers or spirited shouting from the back of the Rohnert Park toy, hobby and game store. That’s where families, friends and specialty groups gather for a mix of fun activities, from racing slot cars to building scale models to launching stomp rockets.
When owners Steve and Jean Elliott relocated their store after 10 years in Petaluma, they wanted to create a community gathering place where like-minded hobbyists could meet up and share their pursuits. Their larger space has allowed them to expand on the hospitality that began in Petaluma.
Today, after nearly five years in Rohnert Park, Fundemonium has something going on every day of the week. Those festive cheers and shouts reflect the efforts the Elliotts have made to promote events and host a wide variety of activities.
On a recent weekend, the International Plastic Modelers Society of Sonoma County presented a spring model show; Cub Scouts gathered for a Pinewood Derby competition; and children posed for photos with the Easter Bunny - all while shoppers browsed the toy aisles.
Steve, 58, recalls a customer once telling him it’s not likely to visit Fundemonium “without hearing people laughing and cheering.” The customer added, “It’s kind of cool.”
Parties (guided by a Fundemonium host) are big, too, whether for birthdays, sports-league celebrations or school field trips. Themes include science, crafts and racing. During an Animal Creation Party, kids give dimension to plush toys like ladybugs and bears with help from a fluffing machine. “We like to say 10 friends show up for a party and 20 friends go home,” Steve said about the popular stuffed animal parties.
The Elliotts also run a snack corner, something especially convenient during long events, like a recent North Bay Dungeons & Dragons gathering that went on for 12 hours. Visitors can order food like pizza, hot dogs and burritos, as well as soft drinks and ice cream novelties at Funbot’s Snack Bar, named for Fundemonium’s robot mascot.
Located in the Expressway Marketplace shopping center, Fundemonium dedicates almost half of its 14,000-square-foot business for activity spaces. It’s spacious enough to stock a broad selection of games, toys and hobby supplies for all ages, from crafts kits for kids to tracks and scenery items for model train enthusiasts well into their senior years.
The front of the store features a demonstration area where even some of the youngest guests can test the inventory.
“We put lots of our new toys out and as many demos as possible,” said Jean, 55. “First, it’s just fun, and it helps people figure out what they want to get.”
Another popular attraction is the kids’ activity area, or Wonderground, that includes a child-sized kitchen, building stations and numerous hands-on activities in a large, fenced-in section of the store. There’s a nominal fee for drop-in play, with free play for preschoolers from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. during “Momnificent Monday” sessions for youngsters and their parents or guardians.
While little kids can find a world of fun in the Wonderground, visitors of all ages can gather for special events, game nights, club meetings, Scout workshops and competitions. Holidays are always a hit, with the Elliotts hosting such activities as Valentine’s Day crafts-making or building leprechaun “traps” for St. Patrick’s Day.
The monthly calendar might include gatherings of the Wine Country Modelers, the Redwood Empire Model Shipwrights, Gundam robot-?builders or home-school groups. Fans of Star Wars and Pokémon gather for their specific pursuits, while board game nights introduce players to Pandemic, a cooperative-?play game where teams work together to save humanity from four deadly diseases simultaneously exploding across the globe.
“Cooperative games are very popular right now for kids and adults,” Steve said.
The Elliotts said games have been rediscovered, particularly over the past two years, in what Steve calls “an explosion in interest.”
Players are drawn to board games and those involving miniature models, like the warriors and fighting vehicles featured in Warhammer 40K tabletop battles set in the faraway future.
Fundemonium carries everything from classic games like Monopoly and Scrabble to European-style board games with creative themes and deep storylines.
The shelves also feature Qwirkle, a tile-based game for ages 6 and up created by Petaluma game designer Susan McKinley Ross, and Perplexus, a 3D maze game invented by Santa Rosa Junior College art instructor Michael McGinnis. He came up with the concept back when he was a junior at Petaluma’s Casa Grande High School. Both are award-winning games.