Guest article by Dana Minney
“Play is the work of childhood,” Mr. Rogers once said. In Austin, play seems to be the work of not just children, but pretty much everyone. And what would you expect from a city fueled by play? Well, of course, TOYS! Lots and lots of toys.
In fact, Austin is home to some of the most unique and even internationally-known toy stores. Check out these six locally-owned Austin toy stores.
1/ Terra Toys
“I was literally born and raised in the toy store,” says Sylvia Edwards, general manager and daughter of Terra Toys’ original owners. “At the first location, we lived in the back of the store.”
Romalda Allsup and Charles Edwards founded Terra Toys in 1978. Originally proprietors of a snow cone stand, the two started making wooden toys in winter when there was no demand for snow cones. Since then, Terra Toys has changed locations and now features more than 2,700 vendors.
Despite the growth, Sylvia Edwards says they have stayed true to their brand. They offer toys that focus a child’s attention on the here and now, developing spacial awareness, logic and communication centers in the brain. The Edwards family also believes having a good toy means a lot to a child. “Having a few really well-made toys boosts a child’s self-esteem.”
2438 W. Anderson Lane – Website
2/ Lions & Tigers & Toys
Packed with toys from floor to ceiling, Lions & Tigers & Toys offers brands such as Papo, Melissa & Doug and Haba. You can also find collectibles, puppets, wooden toys, eco-friendly items and all sorts of unique treasures.
Two special features offered here are complimentary gift wrap and personalized service. I can vouch for the personal service claim! When sales clerk Cindy Gangstead discovered I’m a mom to 11-year-old boys, she immediately pointed me to Legos and scooters. There’s also a train track and play area in the back of the store. Kids can amuse themselves while grownups shop.
Go Local Austin card holders get a discount, too!
4301 W. William Cannon Dr. – Website
3/ Anna’s Toy Depot
Anna’s Toy Depot owner, Anna Barr, grew her business while growing her family. She opened the second-hand toy store in 1989 when her baby was just a year old.
When it first opened, Anna’s Toy Depot attracted thrifty people looking for a bargain. “Now our society is much more green and re-use is a big thing,” Barr shares. “Also, many customers want traditional toys, like the ones they had when they were young.”
The hottest items here are Legos. You can buy complete sets and parts from old sets, or sell your unwanted Legos to the store. “Even employees of the Legos store shop here. They know I carry parts that are obsolete or discontinued. You can find everything here!” Barr reveals.
Staying in touch with her customers and predicting toy trends has kept her in business. “I love my job, but taking time off to play is important.” True to her word, Barr spends several days a week planting trees in Austin.
2620 S. Lamar Blvd. – Website
BookPeople is the biggest independent bookstore in Texas. It also has a HUGE children’s section with books, toys, a secret tunnel and even a mini-amphitheater to hold the hundreds of kids who visit each week for story time and crafts.
Merilee Wilkerson, employee for 22 years, says, “What’s special about our kids’ section is the people who work here. We are parents or grandparents and we each have a specialty.” Whether you’re interested in teen fiction, picture books or novelty children’s gifts, there is someone at BookPeople who loves that genre and knows it well.
Handmade signs and decorated recommendation cards on the bookshelves add a personal touch. Wilkerson says, “All this is designed to make it playful. We don’t take ourselves too seriously; we definitely have fun here.”
603 N. Lamar Blvd. – Website
5/ Monkey See, Monkey Do
Brandon Hodge, owner of Monkey See, Monkey Do, can trace his inspiration to a day in his childhood: “There was a store near my house called Toys by Roy. When I first walked through the door, I was awestruck. It was a bazaar of the bizarre. That’s what we strive for at Monkey See, Monkey Do.”
When Hodge opened the store in 2005, he had a vision for wacky, kitsch, new and vintage items. “The products and culture are reflections of both my personality and my employees’ personalities.”
Hodge has a knack for business. “The store made a profit from the very first month. The secret is never say ‘no’ to a customer or an employee…hire creative people and let them express themselves in the store.” Expect to be wowed when you step through the door.
1712 S. Congress Ave. – Facebook
6/ Toy Joy
Toy Joy’s history started in 1987 and involves a location change, controversial sale, and ultimately a collaboration with Wild About Music. Store manager Robby Pettinato says, “We genuinely respect the idea that people of all ages should be able to have fun, play with toys and get lost in nostalgia. We also view Toy Joy as an experience rather than a retail store.” Which may explain why the store was voted one of the “Top 10 Toy Stores In the World” by CNN and “World’s Best Toy Store” by Travel and Leisure Magazine.
403 W. 2nd St. – Website
With all these options, there really is no excuse to be toyless…or joyless in Austin. You don’t need toys to play, but it sure is fun to have so many to choose from.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What’s the coolest toy you’ve purchased from one of these popular Austin toy stores?
Dana Minney is happy to have finally found sanity as a single mom by having fun, together time with her kids. Learn more on her website.
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