It all started with trains.
Sean Toris-Silva, who started Pocono Princess, LLC, with his wife, Jennifer, was recovering from an injury in 2011 and decided to drive around Whippany, NJ, lacking anything better to do.
Toris-Silva was working and continues to work full-time as a flight paramedic, and has worked in emergency medical services for 20 years. He met Jennifer when they were partnered as Jersey City paramedics in 2007, before Jennifer earned her nursing degree. Jennifer now works as a registered nurse in the tri-state area, and has worked in emergency medicine for 15 years. “We were partners for awhile,” said Toris-Silva, who married Jennifer in 2013. “We didn’t work out as partners, but we worked out as soul mates.”
Toris-Silva found Whippany Railway Museum as he drove around, and, spurred by a childhood love of trains, he went in and talked with the volunteers before volunteering himself. He became a trustee and was soon developing social media and marketing strategies to encourage visitors to come back. “I saw things we could be doing better,” shared Toris-Silva. “A train museum is a weird thing. Not a lot changes at a museum where the items are so large. People show up once or twice, and that’s it. It’s always the same train ride. The view is the same, the cars are the same. How do we get people to come back for multiple train rides?”
Toris-Silva also thought about the entire family who might visit. The boys and girls who liked trains might have siblings who were more into princesses. He designed events to have something for everyone. “It also attracted people who wouldn’t come to the museum just for the train aspect,” explained Toris-Silva.
When the museum started Christmas train rides in 2015, Toris-Silva found princess companies in New Jersey and developed a plan to introduce the princesses on the train. “I didn’t know what to do, so I saw there were companies in New Jersey that did this and reached out to them,” shared Toris-Silva, who was able to offer the companies a mixture of financial payment and marketing through the museum and the events they attended. “It worked out well for them. They agreed to that and were able to secure events from that. Due to the popularity, we decided to try a non-moving event at the museum, which was a tea party that takes place in an antique train car. It sold out in nine hours. We added a second weekend just for the demand.”
Toris-Silva found they were able to add more themed train rides based on holidays and rotate the princess characters, which encouraged families to come back to the museum. While ultimately the museum had to end their relationship with the princess company, one of the actresses reached out to the museum and said she’d like to continue working with them. They hired her. “She was our princess – she could play just about anybody,” said Toris-Silva. “I’d buy the costumes through the museum or personally and she’d play the characters. We’d bring another actress in when we needed another princess.”
Toris-Silva and Jennifer moved to the Poconos about a year and a half ago, and after the move, he suggested to Jennifer that they start their own company. They’d collected several costumes by that point, and there was only one other small company offering princesses in Allentown. They made the investment and hired five actresses. They now employ about 15 actresses and actors for weekend parties to meet their corporate contracts and private party demands.
Pocono Princess is continuing to grow, serving the Poconos, the greater Lehigh Valley and New Jersey. “Ultimately, we’d like to be busy every weekend,” Toris-Silva said. “My wife and I joke that this business is kind of like a nonprofit for us. The money that comes in, once we pay our girls and reinvest in costumes and wigs and stuff like that, we’re not losing money but we’re not going to retire off this business. It’s about providing opportunities for our employees and giving people in this area who might not have the ability to go to Florida an opportunity to get to see these characters. I’m not looking to take over the world but to spread a little happiness.”
Toris-Silva found that his and Jennifer’s strengths were well-suited to founding and building Pocono Princess. “When we were paramedics, we did not enjoy working together,” admitted Toris-Silva. “With this particular job, we seem to do very well. She’s very crafty and very creative. She has certain strengths I can never do. It boggles my mind. She’s very detail-orientated with the girls, with their makeup and wigs. I’m more of the business aspect and big picture idea guy. Both of our strengths complement the business very well.”
And of course, there are the little moments of making a difference, even a small difference, in someone’s life. Toris-Silva shared that two months ago, the evil stepsisters and Cinderella did an event at Sky Zone Mt. Olive Trampoline Park. Little girls are always encouraged to come dressed up as princesses, and the actors always make a big deal out of it. Toris-Silva noticed one of the little girls who came dressed up. “She was a little shorter than everyone else, but seemed older for her years,” explained Toris-Silva. “We didn’t put anything together from that day. She had a blast. The actresses played around with her and they all had a lot of fun.”
Then he found out through a colleague at work that this little girl was very sick. She was starting to show symptoms again after being in remission from cancer, and had to go for treatment again. Depressed, she was having a hard time. Her parents found out about the event and used it as encouragement–if she was brave and went with them to the doctor, they would take her to see the princesses. Toris-Silva found out that that she had talked about the event for a week prior and the day of, she wasn’t exhibiting symptoms. “She was back to her normal self,” shared Toris-Silva. “For days after, all she talked about were the princesses. That good fortune lingered for a few days and got her through hard testing that she had coming up. It made the actresses feel like they did something to make a difference in this little girl’s day. Stories like that come back to us that are really nice.”