The COVID puzzle craze created a whole new customer base for husband-and-wife team Joel and Amy Bender of Mind Benders in Whiting.

“People were losing their sanity and tired of being on their computers way more than they were used to,” Amy says. “We brought a lot of value and stress release. We are not a traditional toy store and have puzzles, toys and games for infants to seniors with logic games as our focus.”

The duo had to reinvent ways to connect to their customers as they do not sell products online but look to in the future. Joel constantly updated their window display with new or featured products, and they offered consultations via phone or email for gift ideas, which they then delivered to porches locally.

“During all of this, we had no sidewalk and block closures. We were doing curbside pickup without a curb,” Amy says. “We would run down the street to deliver to a customer’s trunk. Looking back, it was madness, but we did everything we could to accommodate our customers.”

“We are an in-store experience with demos out to play the game before they go home,” Joel adds. “We want them to take the game home and not have to read the directions but just open the box and start making memories.”

Joel says that is why COVID was such a game-changer.

“It was a big change to not have the hands-on experience. We couldn’t open our doors, but we could sell through our doorway,” he says. “We stayed engaged on Facebook and would send pictures to help customers decide on products. We put up a two-puzzle limit, but never ran out as we were totally stocked.”

Business ownership is a new experience for both Amy and Joel, who launched the shop in 2016. Joel has a sales background and Amy was in banking.

“I told Amy I have a great name for a toy store – she loved the idea,” Joel says. “You always hear to open something that you’re passionate about and I have always loved playing games and having fun.”

The store carries only items that are brain-powered and range from educational, arts and crafts, family games and trending puzzles, such as crystal and metal versions.

“We have felt a lot of love from our community. People have been really supportive,” Joel says. “We closed our doors, but we were never closed.”

Mind Benders

1438 119th St. in Whiting