Must-Have Toys, Must-See Stores

Lindsay Goldenberg

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From three-story toy emporiums to family-run neighborhood spots to one-of-a-kind shops, the City’s five boroughs boast some of the most amazing toy stores in the country. Where else can kids build their own set of Hot Wheels while store employees help mom and dad breeze through their holiday shopping lists? Below is a list of some of the best toy stores NYC has to offer.

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.
Toy Story: It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s one of the coolest ideas for a costume/toy store around. Once inside, you and your little superhero-in-the-making will find everything necessary to fight evil forces. There are Secret Identity Kits, Invisible Jet Planes (we still haven’t figured out how they package those) and a slew of interactive features that give customers a chance to practice their superhero skills. Highlights include a cape tester (an industrial strength fan that tests out a cape’s flying ability) and a “de-villainizer” (kids are asked a series of questions about their superhero principles and take a solemn oath to uphold them). And look behind a secret bookshelf to find the best thing Brooklyn Superhero Company has to offer: 826NYC, a nonprofit after-school tutoring program dedicated to promoting the creative skills of 6- to 18-year-olds (McSweeney‘s founder and celebrated author Dave Eggers is on the board).

Favorite Toys:
Anti-Matter (16 oz. can, $11)
Suction cups (for climbing walls, of course, $25)
Superhero capes ($20–$40)

Flying Squirrel
Toy Story: When Judith Velosky was pregnant with twins, she saw the massive amount of kids’ stuff she would need. “I didn’t want to buy everything new,” says Velosky, who, with her friend Kate Schmitz, came up with the idea for a secondhand children’s store. Flying Squirrel, which opened its doors more than four and a half years ago in their neighborhood of Williamsburg, has since become the ultimate hangout for parents and kids (and boasts a cool factor like that of SoHo’s Kid Robot). “Every day is fun in here,” says Velosky, who has dedicated an entire back area of the shop for kids to run around and try out the toys. “There’s lots of kids on scooters at any given time,” she adds. With their kids occupied in the playroom, parents, many of whom are local artists and musicians, have a chance to sell or trade in their children’s gently worn clothes and toys (you get either 25% of the items’ value in cash or 50% in store credit). Can’t find the toy your kid wants? The owners will find it or order it for you, which makes for happy tots (and parents).

Favorite Toys:
Micro Mini Scooter (for ages 3 to 5, $75)
Estia Timber Truck with Cargo ($44.95)

FAO Schwarz
Toy Story: There are some things in life that need no introduction, and famed toy store FAO Schwarz is one of them. It’s the toy store that looks so awesome, it makes children (big and little) drool. FAO Schwarz is the oldest toy store in the US, which means they know their toys! The 50,000-square-foot flagship New York location is filled with storybook characters, a giant dance-on piano (remember Big?), real-life toy soldiers and even an ice cream parlor. Each floor of the remodeled store features a new adventure for your tot: the first floor has life-size stuffed animals, the second has a Hot Wheels factory and a build-your-own-doll workshop, and the lower level has a Book Nook, where kids can get some much-needed downtime after the huge adrenaline spike.

Favorite Toys:
Custom Madame Alexander Doll (your child picks out the hairstyle and the color of the eyes, skin and hair, $45)
Harry Potter Ron Weasley’s Wand ($35)

Moonsoup
Toy Story: Moonsoup is the ideal place for children to explore new toys before taking them home, because Moonsoup is more than a retail store—it’s an early childhood development studio. So if your child isn’t playing and having fun at Moonsoup, the employees aren’t doing their jobs. Cofounders Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Susan Izatt started the shop three years ago as a new kind of three-and-one Mommy and Me Center: a store filled with engaging developmental toys and children’s accessories; unique classes for parents, babies and tots (like their Messy Art Mix class); and a birthday party center. “All the staff, parents and kids know each other here,” says Rajadhyaksha. “It’s a great community environment.”

Favorite Toys:
Stuffed Giraffe (the store’s mascot, $150)
Gund Christmas/Hanukkah puzzles ($15–$20)

Pelham Bay Toy Store
Toy Story: This isn’t one of those fancy-schmancy toy stores. There’s no kids music playing from the speakers, and the employees definitely aren’t wearing costumes of the latest cartoon characters. At Pelham Bay, which opened at its present Bronx location in 1959, what you see is what you get: a large selection of the hottest video games, gaming consoles, toys, dolls and more. “We carry anything you want, when you want it,” says Kevin Josephson, the third generation in his family to run the store (his dad Steven works there as well). “We usually have the hot merchandise when the other stores are out.” In other words, this is the place to go when the kids are begging you for an Xbox or a Wii and you don’t want to pull out your hair waiting in line. Think of it as a toy sanctuary—for parents.

Favorite Toys:
Hannah Montana Guitar ($49)
Bakugan ($9.99)

Kidding Around
Toy Story: With its wide toy selection—more than 7,000 items in stock—Kidding Around is the largest independent retail store outside of FAO Schwarz, and after 17 years in business, the folks there are well practiced. “We have over 600 different suppliers,” says owner Paul Nippes. “Most toy stores deal with 40. We do a lot of research.” Kidding Around’s product selection and environment have made it a favorite with locals, tourists and celebrities (Molly Shannon and Brooke Shields are rumored to have popped in from time to time). Nippes puts out scooters and play strollers throughout the store, and keeps a play table in the back for kids to enjoy. “When kids come in here, our goal is for them to be visually overwhelmed,” he says. “We want it to be a magical experience for them.”

Favorite Toys:
Habba Castle ($47.50)
Recycled milk carton tea set ($26.50)


 


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