Print this page World’s Best-Kept Shopping Secret

I was somewhat perplexed by my four year old nephew’s holiday wish list. Christmas was six weeks away, and I hadn’t heard of anything he was asking for. His list was more of a toy-collage filled with pictures of action figures, monster trucks, things that talk and projectiles. Seeking help, I took the list to work. I struck gold with Judy in H.R., (mother of three kids all under the age of six). She knew just where to locate these treasures. She directed me to the local Big-Mart across the street from my favorite little shopping center. “You’d better hurry” she said. “Most of the hot-toys are sold-out before Thanksgiving.” “Toy deliveries are on Tuesdays” she advised. “Get there early, before the good stuff is gone.” Surely she can’t be serious. I can’t shop for toys on Tuesday morning. I went after work.

Circling the parking lot, I found an available space just down from the lawn and garden center. I grabbed an abandoned shopping cart nearby and began to maneuver through a maze of men’s clothing, cleaning products, stereo equipment and sporting goods until I reached the Promised Land…the Toy Department. Wow, this place was busier than a Nordstrom Shoe Sale. What an impressive collection of playthings, all stacked up twelve feet high. I quickly found one of the race car sets on my nephew’s list at half the original advertised price. The box was slightly dented, but who plays with the box? The other items on the list were a bit more elusive. There were signs for some of them, but the toys on the shelf didn’t quite match up. Maybe they have more toys in a stockroom somewhere? An extensively tattooed and slightly pierced stock boy directed me to where I had just been. Asking other customers was not a successful strategy either. After a few blank stares and some sideways chuckles, I retreated to the food court. I was on my second mocha-latte when I struck up a conversation with a young mother nearby. “I see you’re toy-searching” she said. “Looks like it’s not going as planned.” I agreed that I had missed out on this week’s delivery of the “good stuff” and that I had no idea what was appropriate for a four year old boy. She smiled and sympathized with my predicament. She leaned closer to me, so as not to be overheard. “After my son was born I discovered the world’s best kept shopping secret” she confessed. I swiftly moved over to her table. “Across the street, there is this charming, little toy store that has the most wonderful toys” she whispered. “Why are we whispering?” I asked. She admitted that she enjoyed the personal attention and if word got around the store might get too busy and lose some of its appeal. I told her that her secret was safe with me.

The next Saturday, I headed to the secret location. It was easy to park near the entrance and I had no need for an unruly shopping cart. Once inside I was greeted by the delightful sound of children’s laughter, as a group sat listening to a humorous adventure tale of a young boy and a group of pirates. (Note to self - get that book for my nephew.) A friendly woman welcomed me and offered me a lollipop! Feeling at ease, I confessed to my need for assistance. She asked about my nephew’s interests and abilities before showing me a number of toys he might enjoy. “Pre-school children have sophisticated interests. They are very creative and often engage in fantasy play.” she added. “They require lots of physical activity to develop their gross motor skills” she included.

Who knew that four-year olds were so complex? I never realized that there are physical and intellectual conditions to consider. I thought toys were just about having fun. The sales associate explained that a child’s play is very important developmental work. “Toys need to be fun, but the best toys teach a child new skills and build self-confidence” she added. She showed me how simple looking toys build language development, fine motor skills, abstract thinking and enhanced creativity. “Sometimes, simplicity is deceiving” she explained. “It helps to see a toy through the eyes of a child.”

We went over to an in-store play area. One child was pouring imaginary tea, another was intent on stacking a series of different size cups and a third was trying to see how many little train cars he could line up and push. They seamed so focused. “We could use some stuff like this in my office” I laughed. “A child’s play is her work” she added. She explained that children continue to repeat a task, until they feel they have mastered it. What looks simple and perhaps boring to an adult, is actually quite fascinating to a child. “Children enjoy using their senses to discover the world around them” she continued. “They move through various stages of development and continually require new challenges.” She left me to ponder my options.

The things she said made sense, but my nephew seemed pretty excited about his list. It didn’t appear that I was going to find any of the coveted items here either. Waving the list, I ran back to the front counter. Apparently, these people have seen this panicked look before. “Don’t worry about the list” proclaimed another customer. “My kids are always cutting out pictures of TV advertised toys. I stopped searching for them, when I found them discarded a few days later in favor of a set of wooden blocks, a book, or a puzzle. Children get caught up in the hype, too” she concluded. “The staff here never steers me wrong.”

Feeling more assured I returned to the pre-school area, selecting several interesting items for my nephew, including the pirate adventure book and ship to go with it! While I was contemplating how I was going to wrap the large vessel in my possession, a sales clerk asked “Would you like your purchases wrapped, today? There is no extra charge and you can select the type of paper” she added. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather boa from the dress-up area! This is the place to shop. From the parking lot to the gift wrap; what a pleasant and informative experience. I better keep this little secret to myself…

This story is fictional, but the experience is real.

Your local independent toy store is an ideal place to find quality, developmentally appropriate playthings for children-newborn to pre-teens- along with puzzles and games for the entire family. You’ll find a wide variety of open-ended toys and knowledgeable staffs that will help you make informed selections. Independent toy stores are an integral part of their local communities, serving as a resource for families and others interested in encouraging healthy growth through play. Shopping in locally owned stores keeps much of your purchase dollars in your local community. It’s a win-win experience: you get great service, creative products, and support local merchants at the same time. To find a listing of a store in your area go to www.astratoy.org.


Deborah Scholl is the owner of FUNdamentally Toys! in Houston, TX.

Provided By Susan J. Oliver, Tropomedia
This information is provided on behalf of the toy experts at your
neighborhood toy store.


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