Saturday, October 22, 2011

Support your neighborhood toy store

I had the privilege of attending a blogger event at Building Blocks toy store in Wicker Park on Thursday evening. Co-hosted by store owner Katherine McHenry and ASTRA (the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, the evening offered a rare chance to browse the toy aisle without my two little gimme-monsters, meet toy inventors and chat with experts on why supporting your local toy shop matters.

Saturday, November 12th is Neighborhood Toy Store day, so if you haven't made it into Building Blocks in the city or Geppetto's in Oak Park or Berwyn's Toys and Trains (or source for Playmobil sets) recently, kick off your holiday shopping with a stop at a business that stocks quality toys, donates to local schools and charities, has staff on hand to make suggestions and gift wraps for free. Yes, you can buy a lot of toys for less on Amazon or at Target, but if they become as commoditized as book and music--well, a lot of great neighborhood business owners will suffer. And so with their communities.

But enough with the Debbie Downer. Building Blocks is the kind of toy store I remember from my childhood. Its all narrow aisles and crowded shelves and toys jam-packed from floor to ceiling. Unlike Geppetto's, where shopping is more akin to browsing a museum of elegant (and expensive) Waldorf-approved playthings, Katherine has European toy brands like Haba, Corelle and Klein family favorite Playmobil cheek to jowl with inexpensive Alex arts and crafts supplies, LEGO sets and award-winning games. I even spied a beautiful set of Hebrew ABC blocks. She even confessed to stocking a handful of Barbie dolls so that no birthday gift shopper need go elsewhere. I bought a roll of paper for our art easel, a set of creamy crayons and 3 books Z can write and illustrate (gift wrapped for her birthday).

But I went home with much, much more. ASTRA sent bloggers home with two bags filled with the toys independent shop owners had votes the best toys of the year--awesome, inventive toys like an updated potholder loom, a make-your-own safety pin bracelet kit, a teaching cash register, nanoblocks and Tegu blocks. I'll be writing more about them as they get doled out, likely for Chanukah.

Another highlight of the evening was meeting toy inventors Peggy Brown and River Forest's own Bruce Lund. They were autographing their toys, The Cat's Pajamas card game and Doggie Doo, respectively. We broke out both games this weekend. The Cat's Pajamas, a silly, simplified version of Go Fish that involves "speaking cat" is a delight, but my high hopes for Doggie Doo--a game in which players compete to see who can make a plastic dog pass a gummy turd--were dashed when it turned out that getting the dog to go was a long, frustrating process that involved way too much kid fighting and parental intervention. And the wet, flatulent sounds that accompany the doggie doo's approach are truly, em, realistic.