“I can’t talk about Pow! Science! without talking about Eric,” says Hema Bulmer, who carried on with the STEM-focused toy store after the unexpected death of her husband in 2018. “Pow! Science! is because of him.”
Bulmer met Eric in her native Nepal, when he was in the Peace Corps. When it was time for him to return to the US, he proposed. She accepted and followed him to his native Rhode Island.
When they arrived, Eric worked as a high school science teacher. It was then he identified a gap in early childhood education. Elementary schools covered reading, writing, and math, but kids had to wait until at least fourth grade to get any sort of science instruction. Eric wanted to introduce science concepts earlier, using fun, hands-on ways to engage the kids.
“Eric had a vision when he taught,” she says. “He wanted to use everyday things to teach physics and chemistry. He wanted to make it fun.” That included getting on the floor and engaging with the kids at their level. “Eric taught me to understand the child’s point of view,” she says. “They respond better that way.”
The couple, both passionate about education, started small, hosting birthday parties and workshops in an office space in Middletown. During the week, Eric would conduct workshops at regional elementary schools. Parents began asking to purchase the toys they used for their classes, so they installed a shelf to act as a mini gift shop. That soon turned into two shelves. By 2005, they had a physical store in Middletown, which grew to a second location in Providence in 2008. They moved their Middletown store to Wakefield in 2009 but shuttered the Wayland Square location in 2013, in no small part because parking was proving difficult for their customers, especially on weekends, when upwards of 25 families attending parties would vie for limited spots.
Even though the store is in South County, their reach remains statewide. Still true to their original mission, instructors continue to fan out across the state for in-school workshops. At-home party bookings, suspended during COVID, will return in 2023. Meanwhile, Pow! Science! continues to host their weekly Kinder Science class at their Wakefield Mall location on Fridays. During the pandemic, Bulmer, armed with a master’s degree in anthropology, pivoted to online learning, offering free weekly video instructions of science experiments that used everyday objects found at home.
With the holiday season fast approaching, Bulmer knows she and her staff will get inundated with questions about the best toys to buy. Instead of pointing out the trendy items, Bulmer guides them to pick out a toy the grown-up loves instead. “This way, you end up playing with the kid,” she explains. “Kids don’t want the toy. They want the time.”
This idea formed their popular Kinder Science program (for ages 2.5-5), which actually isn’t about teaching science to the kids. “It’s giving grown-ups the knowledge so they can take the experiments home and do the activities together,” says Bulmer.
“Pow! Science! is just as much for the adults as it is for the kids,” she continues. “Adults say to me, ‘I wish I could be 7 or 8.’ You can be! Don’t put aside your playfulness. We don’t forget [how to play].”
Eric’s presence looms large at the retail location. Posters of him dressed up as Captain America line the walls, and his beloved childhood train set has pride-of-place in the front display window. For Bulmer, who credits the community’s outpouring of love and support for getting her and her daughter through the dark days following Eric’s death, letting go of Pow! Science! was never an option. “I am the caretaker of his legacy,” she explains.
One of the last independent toy stores left in the state, Pow! Science! was built on passion, not profit motives. Neither Bulmer nor her husband approached the store with a money-making mentality. Instead, they crafted a place where adults never feel obligated to buy, even if they spend hours in the store playing with the displays. “Just put your stuff away when you’re finished,” Bulmer says with a gentle smile. PowScienceToys.com
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