As a child whose parents owned their own businesses including an Irish gift shop and a restaurant, I have come to appreciate supporting independent places. I used to give my mother a hard time telling her that she was charging too much for a handmade sweater or a custom designed ring. It was when I went on a buying trip to Ireland with her that I understood why independent shop keepers were forced to charge more to their customers. Sure Toys ‘R Us and Target are the go to places for all the latest toys. I won’t let my daughter near the “Big Book” they send out during Christmas.
What is wonderful about a locally owned toy store? They pride themselves on being a small, independently run business, free of corporate involvement. It means finding that needle in a haystack kind of gift for your friend’s new baby or that dress that no other child in school will have. Trust me, I’m guilty of being one of those moms. I’m also happily guilty of keeping it real, spending a little bit more money than say at Amazon. Knowing that I am stimulating the economy by supporting small, locally run mom and pop places are reasons why I shop there.
I spent much of my childhood gathering my weekly allowance to visit Why Not? The toy and clothing store is two levels of wholesome fun. Unfortunately, customer service is always lacking here. Downstairs is geared toward the little visitors offering Jellycat, Zubels, Gund animals and even magical unicorns. There are finger puppets, everything you need for a Curious George fan, and My First Wonder Woman book. I’m an adult and I want this touch and feel book! Rich Frog and Sophie the Giraffe have natural rubber teething toys and blocks made with non-toxic inks. There is also wooden goods, play food and cookware by Djeco, Hape, Plan Toys, Le Toy Van, Melissa and Doug, and Haba. An enclosed play area contains a train table, two kitchens, and a tool workbench. Speaking of upstairs, older children will find an array of Breyer horses and tons of dinosaur stuff. Girls rule in the form of dolls, tutus, treasure boxes, china tea sets, and art supplies galore. Both girls and boys can pique their curiosity with science and nature games and activities, air hockey, and gag gifts.
Why Not? wins for best selection of retro stuff such as with wind-up toys, Yes & Know ink pen games, and Mr. Men and Little Miss books.
Top toy picks: Peter Rabbit pull toy, Okie Dokie recordable microphone, Calico Critters house and Ravensburger puzzles.
What’s in a name you say? 529 Kids Consign says it all. Why spend money buying new clothes for your children when you should be saving for their college education? What began as an online boutique, then a pop-up shop, has now become one of Old Town’s hottest stores for kids and parents. Owners Megan Podolsky & Pouneh Barnes came up with the clever name and concept of offering upscale, consigned children’s clothing, maternity wear and toys. The small selection of toys is both gently used and new.
They post to Facebook regularly with updates on stock. You will always find organic teething necklaces, locally made appliqued t-shirts, animal crayons, educational books, simple craft projects, The Outdoor Explorer Kit, and eco-friendly Haba Lilli dolls, finger puppets and discovery blocks. While hidden a little bit from the road, the store is super cute and definitely worth a peek. Check out and support this cutesy mom owned business.
Top toy picks: Flashcards by Mud-Puppy and The P. Rak Match Factory critters.
If you have a kid who is into trains, model airplanes, bottle rocket kits, Hot Wheels, remote control cars or Legos, they will love Whistle Stop Hobbies. The family-owned, old-fashioned shop carried the three major brands of trains: Lionel, Bachman and TMT.
They also stock N-G gauge trains, with most sets ranging from $50 to $400. Step into the back room through the vault, yes, a real safe vault, to view consigned trains, one priced at nearly $2,000. Even the youngest fans will enjoy a variety of Thomas the Train “cars,” play mat, individual train pieces, and squishy RC Bump ‘n Chuck Bumper Cars for tots.
If you are debating whether to splurge on a train set, ask the staff to operate the display train by the window. Scene scapes and other accessories complete your train display. Note: toy rifles are on display here and that includes toy bullets. They are arranged throughout the store. Out of place are the M & M candy dispensers.
Whistle Stop Hobbies will be moving in 2013, stay tuned, they won’t be moving far!
Top toy picks: Lionel New York Central Flyer Freight Train and Red Baron kite.
Walking into Pink & Brown makes one feel all warm and fuzzy. The store is not only adorable, but also unique because they sell 100% organic clothing and furniture. The store caters mostly to infants, but you will also find trendy gifts for up to age 6. You don’t need to check the labels on where the toys are made because every item in the store is environmentally safe. Soft toys, lamb rattles, Haba stacking toys and Lilli and friends dolls, animal puppets, dapper dressed teddy bears, first games, and non toxic play dough made in the USA are just some of the neat items here. Wooden items include butterfly nets, race cars, rocking horses and the popular handmade push carriages. There is an adorable baking set for your future pastry chef by Moulin Roty. If this store was around when my child was younger, I would be in trouble. Yes, it’s pricey, but you are paying for quality over quantity.
Top toy picks: Uncle Goose alphabet blocks and Cate and Levi stuffed animals.
“Read it! Read it!” says the frog mascot at Hooray for Books. This is unlike any chain book store you will find. This delightful neighborhood place is a short walk from the King Street metro. Browse and explore their selection of children’s books, autographed books, toys, games, and adult books. It’s never too early to read and learn. Youngsters will find educational placemats, crayon sets, ornate topped pencils, puppets, puzzles, storybook characters like Eloise, Madeline and Babar, matching ladybug raincoat and umbrella, CDs, sticker books, Lego Star Wars pens, Chicken Socks activity books and ThinkFun games.
A favorite that I read to my daughter when she was little was ABC A Child’s First Alphabet Book. How about cuddling up with a Peter Rabbit Snuggle Book? Remember Paddington bear with his cute red hat? Hooray for Books sells a Paddington Floor Puzzle – genius! Older children can get creative with Mad Libs, Klutz art books, and Melissa and Doug DIY crafts. There’s a table in the back with free bookmarks. Check out Wee Ones Story Time for ages 2 and under every Friday and Saturday at 10:30 am. Visit their website to find out about their book club for ages 6 to adult, author visits and other events.
Top toy picks: Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake book and Where the Wild Things Are game.