Ahead of the festive season, James Drew meets with Alain Serneels, joint-owner of Brussels’ very own ‘Aladdin’s Cave’, Serneels.
It’s an unforgettable experience for young and old, the first time you open the door and enter Serneels, to be found on Avenue Louise at the Wilcher’s Site adjoing Hotel Conrad.
Ever since it was founded in 1959 by owners Alain and Brigitte Serneels’ father Edmond, Serneels has remained faithful to its central philosophy – every toy is unique, made from natural materials, and each is created to form a link to strong emotions and happy childhood memories.
Right from its beginnings, the store has always rejected commercialized fads, gadgets as well as all replica firearms, favouring instead quality brands, craftmanship and games that stimulate children’s imaginations – and, when you walk in, it’s no exaggeration to say that you feel like you’re stepping into a child-like wonderland, surrounded by beautiful stuffed toys, wooden tricycles, dolls houses – in short, all the trappings of Alice in Wonderland.
So, Alain, is it difficult to compete with modern-day childrens’ obsessions, such as Wii or PlayStation 3?
“Well, I think the problems come with what these kind of games can do to children. By the age of eight or nine, if they have been playing with video games like this since the age of three or four, they already have a hyper-blase attitude, because the games leave very little to the imagination. When you have really young children being given the very latest-technology photo/video-game/ mobile-phone technology, I can’t help but think that something of childhood is being lost too quickly.
“However, to be fair, we tend to rediscover the same young people a little later, when they are reaching adolescence, say, and discovering the fun of social games. In addition, I believe that the joy of a really well-made toy or game endures – massproduced toys today seem to be designed to be disposed of in a week, but the games and toys that Serneels make, and have always made, are built to last, to be passed down from generation to generation.”
Perhaps surprisingly, given that it is such a national, even international institution, with the great and the good frequently passing through its doors, Serneels has not made a big fuss of its 50-year festivities. “Of course we are very proud,” Alain explains “but we are proud every year, every day that we open our doors. Truly, my sister’s and my life has been blessed with the joy that we know our store gives and have given to so many people since my father was in charge. You can’t put a price on that.”
Avenue Louise, 69
T.+32 (0)2 538 30 66