Cardiff Character: Maia Banks

The American owner of a new toy and book shop in Grangetown talks about being sustainable and part of a diverse community

Maia Banks, owner of Honeycomb Toys and Books, at the book corner of her shop

Maia Banks, 34, has recently opened a toy and book shop in the centre of Grangetown. Honeycomb Toys & Books is inherently focused on sustainability and community.

Hailing from Virginia, Maia misses her American home but finds solace in the tightly-knitted Grangetown community.

Her business stocks sustainable, inclusive and locally made toys, nursery items, and books. The toys contain as little single-use plastic as possible, and have reusable elements to them. Another sustainable measure, she also runs a toy library, where customers can buy and return certain toys.

American woman

Maia has lived here for seven years. Equipped with a six-month working visa, Maia and a friend volunteered on British farms and couch-surfed across the country after she graduated from university in 2007. She moved to Cardiff after the trip and met future husband Martin.

“I just really like it here. There’s something about it,” she says.

Now, she is settled in Grangetown with Martin and her two children, daughter Corabell, 4, son Taliesin, 15 months, and crazy wheaten terrier Aesop. You can perhaps tell already that Maia is an avid literature fan.

Maia laughs when asked what she likes to do in her spare time, indicating she doesn’t have much. She likes coffee, baking and reading. She rushes from her seat to show off her favourite children’s book, a picture book called Stardust.  

Maia behind her till at Honeycomb, pictured with her favourite children’s book, Stardust by Jeanne Willis and Briony May Smith.

Toy story

She came up with the idea of setting up a toy shop when she was on maternity leave from her post at Cardiff council. “I love toys and I love children. I’ve always wanted to create and build something from scratch,” she says.

She devised business plans and bought a few toys with her savings, hosting pop-ups along the way. Once her start-up loan was approved by the government, Honeycomb officially opened on 5 October.

“I’ve always wanted to create and build something from scratch.”

The mother-of-two admits it’s exhausting running a shop by herself. Open five days a week, she laughs when asked what she does in her spare time – indicating she doesn’t have much.

Before launching, Maia said that “My husband and I would take turns at night to get the shop ready once the kids were put to bed. That was hard. It was a long process.”

Being sustainable

Maia stresses the importance of being as sustainable as possible in the shop. Honeycomb achieves this through a toy library system, where you can pay £5 to rent three toys for a month, with the option of buying later. “Sometimes you buy a toy for a kid, and they’re just like ‘nah’. It’s a good idea, you can test it out.

“If I’m going to open a toy shop, I don’t want to add to the problem of buying lots of things we don’t need… A toy isn’t actually a necessity, but I want them to be good quality, so they don’t break and end up in landfill.

Maia said she’s always been sustainably minded, “My parents wouldn’t buy me silly string. I’ve grown up with it – it’s always been important.”

Community feeling

Despite missing her big Virginia family and being able to swim outside, she has found solace in the Grangetown community. “I like Grangetown a lot. I like that it’s diverse, both culturally and financially,” she says.   

“I just really like it here. There’s something about it.” 

She’s met lots of nice people here and has reached out to other businesses, namely coffee shop Lufkin and vegan cafe Wild Thing. She expresses her desire to work with local artists and makers. “I want to sell as many locally made things as possible,” she explains.

Groups like Friends of Pentre Gardens have hosted arts and crafts workshops at Honeycomb. 

Maia added, “Lots of people have come in and said we needed this in Grangetown.”