As more and more Sydneysiders learned of Harold’s skill, he opened up his own repair business in the back of the general store. While he patched up all manner of household goods, toys became his specialty.
Following the end of the Second World War, Australia lifted its importing restrictions and Harold found himself flooded with more business than he could handle. It was a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.
With his clientele base growing, Harold needed more hands on deck. He passed along the shop to his son, Harold Jr., who understood they needed more space for their large inventory. He relocated the store to its current location.
All these years later, the Original Doll Hospital remains a family business. Geoff Chapman, the grandson of the elder Harold, acts as the owner and “surgeon-in-chief.” Even in his 70s, he takes playing with toys quite seriously. But how has he been at it for so long?
It’s hard to believe how a doll hospital could survive in the age of online shopping, but to put it simply, they are good at what they do. Few other establishments in Australia, or the world, can mend precious items with such surgical precision.
Plus, they deal in saving highly personal and sentimental possessions. Most are one of a kind. Geoff says it’s not unusual to see a customer burst into tears once they see a previously damaged item restored to mint condition.
And make no mistake: this is hard work. Each member of Geoff’s team is a trained professional, and any slip-ups could result in an irreversible mistake. They might not be M.D.s, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take their job seriously. The hospital comparisons don’t end there either.
The front of the store even presents itself as a type of hospital, with separate areas dedicated to different types of repairs. Whatever the “patient”‘ may be, they will find a place to treat it.
Naturally, any doll hospital worth its salt has a ward for vintage dollhouses. These masterpieces are among the most detailed items on the antique market, so they require extra care. After all, the most coveted dollhouses sell in the millions!
But the Hospital doesn’t shy away from more ordinary items. Many teddy bears, often the most loved and run-down personal items, come through to get re-stuffed or to get a torn limb reattached.
Of course, the doll remains the true mainstay of Geoff’s Chapman’s business. No two are alike, so employees always have to stay on their toes. Some parts of the repair process are especially challenging.
According to employee Kerry Stuart, “The thing I like least is eyes. It’s a very difficult balancing act to get them right, so it does take a while. Sometimes I have to do them three times before I’m happy with them.”
Because dolls come in every shape and size imaginable, the shop has to keep a vast array of spare parts in stock. The tinkerers in the back are always linking up different limbs, torsos, and heads. But as much as the workers are like doctors, they are also artists.
They know the details are what really makes a doll precious. Many of their orders are to replace a toy’s hair or touch up its color. Emotionally speaking, these little things really connect a person to their childhood mementos.
Work at the Original Doll Hospital is far from typical, but the employees certainly take great pleasure in it — and so do their customers. At this hospital, everybody leaves smiling, whether the smiles are genuine or just painted on.