For more than 60 years, Toys“R”Us has been helping kids be kids and grown-ups to revisit their childhoods by providing one of the largest selections of top-brand toys, electronics, games and everyday baby essentials. Founder, Charles Lazarus, revolutionized the toy business by modeling his stores after supermarkets, providing a variety of options to suit varying ages and interests and offering customers to help themselves and have fun in the process. Today, that sense of playfulness is evident at nearly 600 stores in the United States alone, including a flagship location in Times Square where kids are greeted by a 60-foot Ferris wheel, a 5-ton animatronic T-Rex, and a life-sized, 4,000-square-foot Barbie house.
Beyond everybody's favorite bikes, trains and video games, each Toys“R”Us store keeps its shelves stocked with the season’s must-have toys as well as nostalgic standbys that never go out of style. Time-tested brands such as LEGO, Radio Flyer, NERF and Fisher-Price share the shelves with an expansive selection of electronics for older kids, including Wii U and tablets. And though the company has inspired generations of boys and girls to try their hardest not to grow up, it also strives to ensure budding brains develop right on track by devoting a significant portion of its stores to “smart-play” with a wide selection of electronic learning toys and software.
Toys“R”Us—whose extended family of brands includes Babies“R”Us and FAO Schwarz—has earned a number of awards and recognitions through the years, including a spot on Fortune’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies in 2012. The company has also drawn considerable recognition for its expansive charitable efforts, which include partnerships with the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and Save the Children. This year also marks the tenth consecutive year that the company has partnered with the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation to collect new, unwrapped toys and monetary donations in its stores to benefit the organization.
The friendly staff at Evolution Games encourages visitors to roll the dice and shuffle the deck within their demonstration center, where players can get a taste of more than 20 strategic games before buying them. Customers can satisfy competitive appetites by snagging a Magic: The Gathering intro pack ($11.99), booster pack ($3.99), or booster box ($100) to slather with barbecue sauce and chew card by card. Players harvest grain and trade brick and lumber during the Settlers of Catan board game ($39.99) or play the part of railroad barons as they build tracks during Ticket to Ride ($49.99). Gamers can submerse themselves in an alternative, role-playing world with a Dungeons & Dragons starter set ($19.99) and a full line of rule books, maps, and dice. Like looking over paperwork for prenuptial agreements, the Munchkin card game teaches participants the value of making and breaking alliances ($24.99).
Owners Nancy Renick and Ellen Durand escort whippersnappers of all ages through Village Toy Company's trove of specialty diversion tools, including stuffed toys, do-it-yourself craft and science kits, sports equipment, and board games. Kids gussy up a plush dog in a spa mask, a tutu, and a rhinestone collar with the Creativity For Kids puppy spa before coloring in the included stickers and interviewing the pageant-ready pooch on trending political issues ($20.99). Youngsters can safely hone spirals with soft Poof footballs ($8.99–$12.99) or string together homemade jewelry with a Melissa & Doug Create-A-Craft bead kit ($4.99). The award-winning board game Bananagrams ($14.99) pits wordsmiths against each other and the clock as they build a grid of intersecting text tidbits, which invariably spells out the entire script of Samuel Beckett's Endgame. Village Toy Company's staff happily advises guests on personalized gift ideas and can etch containers with custom names and drawings on-site.
Funky Monkey Toys treats kids and adults to old-fashioned toys, educational games, books, and more. Owner Tom Jones eschews the plastic bobbles and video games in favor of classic wooden playthings, puzzles, dollhouses, puppets, and board games. The popular BrainString Advanced by Recent Toys offers hands-on brain-teasers that appeal to pint-size decoders ($16.99), and budding Houdinis and geneticists can impress the playground with a dice cloning magic trick from Fantasma Magic ($9.99). The Twilight Ladybug by Cloud B projects a night sky above and around baby’s crib, calming nighttime fears of closet monsters and pillow accountants ($29.95). Parents will appreciate the complimentary gift bags with every purchase and the nostalgia of classic playroom fillers, such as the Swivel Bridge Train Set by Melissa & Doug ($59.95).
The colorful novelties, handcrafted dolls, and blown-glass figurines on Lucky Duck Toys’ brimming shelves enthrall youngsters and inner children alike. Playthings from popular brands include the Uglydoll Big Toe ($19.95), whose unostentatious cuddliness enthralls pride and joys. A sprawling Playmobil collection bolsters creativity through entertainment alongside a multicolored wonderland of Legos (2.95+), which equip aspiring architects with the bricks to launch themed construction projects or cubist self-portraits. Papo knight figurines take frequent breaks from chivalrous posing while juniors bend their brains on the assortment of puzzles and literature in the book section. A collection of rocks and minerals launch geographic inquiry, and the Folkmanis tree-frog puppet ($22.95) spurs blossoming imaginations like a business card from the Tooth Fairy.
Knowledge is free at Bloom Baby & Kids—at least when that knowledge covers cloth diapers or the atomic weight of baby carriers. That’s because owners John and Nellie Sowash host complementary workshops within their retail store, introducing parents to topics such as making baby food at home. The Sowashes teach some of these sessions themselves, as well as bring in other instructors to lend their expertise. It's all part of John and Nellie’s effort to create a close-knit community of parents and kids. In this spirit, Bloom Baby & Kids' team also hosts events throughout the community, including kids' art classes at Millpond Park Gazebo.
These free workshops and events are of course supported by Bloom Baby & Kids' retail shop. Accented by bright blue walls, the calming storefront surrounds parents with clothing, toys, and supplies for babies and young kids. Exemplifying the community-mindedness of John and Nellie, the store sets aside a portion of their inventory strictly for local "made in Michigan" products.