Walking into a toy store can be overwhelming, even if you know exactly what you’re looking for. But say you’re a grandparent buying for a child in another state whose actual interests are a mystery, or for a teenager who lives in the other room but is equally mysterious.
In such cases, the staff at toy stores should become your friends.
“We get asked to help people pick out toys 20 times a day, every day,” says Dell Krull, manager at the Elephant’s Trunk in the Fifth Street Public Market. “We get asked all the time what a kid might like, and we try and help people narrow it down by asking them questions such as age, gender, what they might be into.” Think of the toy store worker your concierge to the toy world.
It’s not crazy to consider cultivating a relationship with your local toy store just like you would your butcher, your farmer or your baker. They know their toys, they know what kids like and they know what sells.
They also get demos of toys so they can experience them firsthand, and some of them are irresistible. Krull got to play with a toy called Squigz ($25). “They’re the coolest thing ever,” Krull says.
Squigz are “fun little suckers” consisting of little suction cups that connect to each other and to any non-porous surface, such as a table, window glass or a bathtub. “We had a demo, and I played with these for hours,” Krull says. Keep in mind he’s an adult, so your kid’s probably going to like them too.
Another winner perfect for stuffing stockings is Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty ($11 to $15). It comes in various forms and colors including glow-in-the-dark and heat-sensitive color-changing versions. It’s also hyper-colored and magnetic. In other words, it’s not your mother’s putty.
At Dancing Weasel toy store in Eugene, owner Danita Reynolds agrees that people should not be shy about coming into the store and asking for help. “We get a lot of people that ask for help,” she says. “We get a lot of grandparents that come in because we’ve helped them so well that they trust us, and the kids love the toys that we suggest, so they come back.”
Reynolds likes a new dollhouse by Plan Toys called the Green Dollhouse ($253). “It has recycling, a water collection system, a solar panel and an electrical turbine for wind power, too,” she says. “It is truly a green house, and it comes with all of the furniture.” It doesn’t come with the family, though.
Reynolds says grandparents tend to gravitate to the more pricey items such as easels or play kitchens, and Dancing Weasel can certainly accommodate that, though they’ve got a plethora of items for a lot less.
One standout for toddlers is the Rody, an Italian toy that kids sit on and bounce ($57). “These are made by a company that makes therapy balls,” Reynolds says, “so the material is really durable and safe.”
Dancing Weasel just started carrying a new line of toys called Primary Science ($32). “These are science kits for 3- and 4-year-olds,” she says, “which is really hard to find for that age group.” Young ones can practice color mixing or playing with magnets. The basic lab kit comes with a beaker, magnifying glass, funnel, eyedropper, flask, tweezers, goggles, large and small test tubes and activity cards.
Dancing Weasel carries mostly toys for younger kids, primarily those under 10. You won’t find plastic junk here — their toys tend to be the wooden, eco-friendly type with less gender stereotypes and more emphasis on creative and developmental play.
The Elephant’s Trunk has a greater selection of toys for a larger age range of kids, including electronic toys and the toys you grew up with, like Spirographs and Lincoln Logs.