The storefront of the Dinosaur Farm is wrapped in white paper, covered in colorful doodles of dinosaurs in multiple forms. There’s a farmer dinosaur with a straw hat and a pitchfork. Below that is another one on crutches and its leg in a cast.
“Get well soon” is scribbled in marker all around the paper, showing that toy and dinosaur enthusiasts from South Pasadena and beyond haven’t forgotten about the Mission Street staple as it remains closed to undergo repairs.
“We’ve changed out the paper a couple times,” owner David Plenn said. “I always go out there and take pictures and I post them on our [employee] chat so they can see that people care.”
Beyond the wraparound get well soon card is a sight much less colorful. The floor tile is exposed and dirty and the ceiling is thousands of slim wooden planks. Some scaffolding lingers in the corner.
The ceiling of the Dinosaur Farm collapsed on May 4 at about 4 a.m., likely caused by the spring’s excessive rainfall. In addition to a new ceiling, the store needs new lighting and carpeting. Thousands of dollars’ worth of damaged toys will be disposed of and there’s a significant loss of income due to the closure, too.
“At the beginning I was really hopeful and was trying to meet with everybody and we were trying to figure out ways in which to accelerate the process,” Colleen Berry, a Dinosaur Farm employee said. “At this point it’s kind of sad in general. It’s like, this thing that provided a lot of joy has been taken away from a lot of us.”
Plenn has secured the permits to begin renovations, which has renewed optimism. He hopes to have the store back open by the end of August.
Another promising sign is that Kidd’s Jewelry Heist, which is housed in the back of the Dinosaur Farm’s building, is operating and hosting parties once again and has no water damage. The two businesses have a symbiotic relationship, sharing not just the building but also customers.
Plenn has been able to retain most of his employees despite the closure. Berry can’t let go of job duties like searching for a dimorphodon in a back stock of dinosaurs for an eager 6-year-old boy quite yet.
“It’s a place in which you can really see yourself grow up,” she said. “The only purpose of it is to be joyful and nice and good and I feel like when you step in there, it’s almost impossible not to feel it.”
The ceiling collapse happened on a Thursday and among an onslaught of other thoughts, Plenn had Saturday in mind. He agonized over disrupting parents’ weekend routines of getting their kids ready, heading to the Dinosaur Farm for a birthday gift, then going to a birthday party with that gift.
So, a handful of employees sat with Plenn and a boombox outside and sold gift certificates, birthday cards and a toy here and there. The entrance to the store was blocked off, which eventually forced a moment of realization for Plenn.
“This kid stopped at the door and saw the hole in the ceiling, saw the debris, the plastic and just started crying like somebody ran over his dog,” he said. “It was just the saddest thing. I was doing really good until then.”
Many more teary-eyed kids have looked through the front window and carefully signed the white paper. Visitors from as far as Hawaii have been met with locked doors, although the sponge-painted dinosaur murals still peer back at them from behind the glass.
There was a point at which Plenn did seriously consider closing Dinosaur Farm, which has been open for 28 years, but stubbornness took over. He said he refuses to let something beyond his control shut him down, and his son wants to take over the business someday.
When people call Dinosaur Farm, Plenn explains to them the water damage and where he’s at in the renovation process. He tells them about other places to possibly find dinosaur toys, but:
“There’s no toy stores as cool as ours,” he says into the receiver.
Dinosaur Farm enthusiasts are encouraged to remain patient until the store reopens. It’s not going anywhere because it has proven longevity, somewhat like its prehistoric namesake.
“Everybody goes, ‘oh, you’re a dinosaur’ like that’s kind of a failure,” Plenn said.
Remember, dinosaurs lived for millions of years. You can’t even fathom. We’re talking about 68 million years. Not 2,000 years.
“They lived forever. Totally dominant.”