Toy Store

I was in the mall tonight and saw that KayBee Toys was having a giant clearance sale. I ducked in and picked up a few interesting bargains - a current rendition of the View-Master, a very handsome African American Skating Ken, and a toy that I would have coveted had I seen it on TV as a kid, "Dungeon of Doom".

Last month KayBee Toys filed for Chapter 11. On the heels of F.A.O. Schwarz filing its second bankruptcy in December, this led me to ponder how this will affect the future of toy retailing. It seems that both stores cited, at one time or another, the inability to successfully compete with discount retailers like Wal Mart, Toys R Us, and Target. Apparently most toy consumers are strict bottom-liners. But anyone who is truly a toy lover can tell you there are limits to what you will find in these megastores. If you expect to find something handmade or special, you have to search elsewhere.

The places that I find unexpected treasures tend not to be actual toy stores. In fact I can think of only two dedicated toy stores in Los Angeles that I can still rely upon to have a good and unusual range of toys. Other places that I shop for toys are independent bookstores, museum stores, stationery stores, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Olvera Street, Wacko, Wound and Wound, Marz, and the Folk Tree. Whenever I travel, I scope out the toy stores first. Unfortunately these days traveling anywhere in the U.S. means you have the same selection of toys and stores to choose from. On a trip to Ireland in the 70's, I was told that toy sales were strictly seasonal and that they were usually sold near Christmas time and only in department stores (that has changed of course with the new global economy).

The only toy stores I can remember going to as a child were in the Farmer's Market. One of them still exists and is run by the same man. Kip's Toyland has changed spaces, but has been in the Farmer's Market since 1945. Steve Lopez of the L.A.Times wrote a nice piece about the store on November 28, 2003. The other store was a doll store, now many decades defunct.

Our family shopped for toys at the local dime store (yes, it was still called that when I was a kid) or at J.J. Newberrys. And I can still spend more than a few minutes pondering the selection of cheap toys in the supermarket rack. For big occasions we would go to a department store. The toy sections were never very large, but the selection was usually of a higher quality and price.

I will miss the local mall toy store. Somehow the gigantic toy warehouse experience has never sparked me the same way a small store has. (Unless of course it is 10 PM on Christmas Eve and you are just there to watch people shop for toys...) Chances of finding something as obscure as "Dungeon of Doom" would depend on how much food and water you could carry on your quest.