Thursday, July 23, 2009

Top Ten Toys

My undergraduate degree is in journalism with an emphasis in advertising. I was going to be the creative genius behind all those incredibly funny beer commercials and sexy cosmetic spreads. For a variety of reasons, I never actually worked a day in the advertising business, an accident of fate for which I’ll be forever thankful.

I lived through my early adulthood with the attitude that advertising was a necessary benignity, but by the time our daughter Josephine was two, I’d developed an outright hostility toward those that would target my child. We watched television rarely and when we did it was public broadcasting, but even that soured when we started running across Blue’s Clues brand merchandise in every toy store in town. It didn’t matter how crappy or redundant the toy was, if it had Blue’s paw print on it, Josephine had been taught by Madison Avenue to crave it. Arg!

It was around this time that we discovered the Greenwood neighborhood’s Top Ten Toys. Woodland Park families already know about this 7,000 square foot shrine to childhood and its commitment to keeping old-fashioned healthy play alive with an enormous selection of classic hands-on toys designed to inspire creativity. You won’t find Barbies or toy guns or Leap Pads at Top Ten. And you definitely won’t find toys that are extensions of those television programs that are really just 30 minute animated commercials for crap. In fact, I don’t think you’ll find toys that are advertised at all – at least not directly to your child.

You will find a huge array of innovative board games, a truly impressive science section, art supplies for all ages, and dramatic play toys that make you want to be a kid again yourself. In fact, the staff is a bunch of adult children. More often than not they’ve played with the toys themselves so they really know what they’re talking about. My friend Brent Williamson, Top Ten’s general manager, is one of the most genuine and loving people I know. It’s an attitude you feel the moment you walk through the door, even during the holidays.

Every parent needs a place like Top Ten, if not in their neighborhood, at least in their town or city. Sadly, I know that there are large swaths of this country where the only options are “big box” operators like Toys R Us and Wal-Mart, with their mass marketed crap, and a staff that has to check the computer to see if they even stock what you’re after, let alone answer questions like, “Do you have anything that encourages pre-math skills?”

I don’t have to ask Brent to know that the economy is putting a squeeze on conscientious, independent businesses like Top Ten. If you’re buying toys, and I know you are, don’t forget Top Ten. And if you’re not in Seattle, seek out the non-violent, multicultural, non-commercial toy store in your area and give it your business.

And as an added incentive, Top Ten is having a sidewalk sale this weekend, July 25th and 26th, so come on down!

Okay, so I guess I didn’t leave advertising behind entirely.


Change Agent said...

We lived a few blocks from Top Ten Toys when our son was growing up. One disadvantage small businesses have right now is that few owners have the acumen to throw their bucket into the fast-flowing stream of internet commerce. Top Ten Toys is jammed with little learning and exploration treasures. A parent has to spend hours looking at item after item after item and imagining what they and their child might do. I'd sometimes buy stuff just so Kerry and I could go home and play. And we all know our childrens toys inspire us to be more creative and imaginative, don't we?

Teacher Tom said...

Oooh yeah, Change Agent, I know what you're saying. I've purchased lots of toys because they were something I wanted to play with. Still do. When I worked at the chamber of commerce (pre-child) I decorated my office with toys. Other managers used to bring their guests by to peer in like it was a point of interest on a tour!

I think you're right about internet commerce.

As a teacher, I've placed my share of online orders, but as time goes on I'm finding that I'd rather buy toys and supplies that I get to hold in my own hands and see with my own eyes first. I've often been disappointed by the quality of what arrives in boxes, wrapped in bubble wrap, and accompanied by handling fees. Of course, I could send it back, but realistically the hassle isn't always worth it.

Eternal Lizdom said...

We have such a toy store near my house and I love going in there! I also discovered a fantastic shop crammed with "old-school" goodies down in a little artsy district in Indy. Those stores are the best because I can get quality toys for my kids and also totally relive the best things from my own childhood.

Teacher Tom said...

I agree. There's nothing like playing with a toy from your own childhood. A couple years ago, my parents decided to clear out their attic and invited my sibs and me over to pick through what we wanted. I brought home a car full of old toys.

My first instinct was to preserve them, but my wife wasn't going to let me turn the guest bedroom into a vintage toy museum. I've now taken most of them into the preschool where they belong. I love getting to relive my childhood through the kids.