Any look at the holiday season would be incomplete without asking the experts what’s new in the 2022 world of toys. Parents are wondering, children are hoping, and retailers are on standby.
When it comes to in-person toy shopping and gift opportunities, southern Maine has three independent toy stores, along with local and corporate big box stores. In October, Toys “R” Us, which went bankrupt in 2017, reopened inside every Macy’s location across the county, giving Mainers another option at the Maine Mall in South Portland. Take pop-up kiosks, local craft fairs, and children’s consignment shops into account and the options grow.
“There are so many places to shop for toys,” said Debbie Bilodeau, general manager of Island Treasure Toys, located in Yarmouth. “Online shopping is convenient, but not as much fun as going in person. We offer higher quality toys, focus on educational items, and actually play with a lot of the stuff ourselves before we sell it. We zone in on our favorites based on each child.” Island Treasure Toys also has locations in Bath, Freeport and Kennebunkport.
Also keen on “touching, feeling and seeing the toys” is Julie Steinbach, owner of Rainbow Toys on Route One in Falmouth. Steinbach has owned the shop for 27 years and like Bilodeau, says knowledgeable customer service is key.
“We really do know the toys we sell,” she said. “They were chosen to be in the store for a reason and we keep on top of the classics like whoopie cushions and the current craze, which happens to be Pokemon right now.”
While both toy stores carry books, Longfellow Books on Monument Sq. has dedicated 35 percent of their space and merchandising to the Children’s Area in the back of the store. Age-dedicated sections ranging from babies to young adult readers are clearly marked. Book buyer Matt Swanson says books are the kind of gift that leaves a lifetime impact.
“It is an extraordinary experience to read a book on your own for the first time – often the first real journey any of us take by ourselves is between the pages of a book,” Swanson said.
As far as the hottest toys, Steinbach says Legos, Brio Trains and dress-up supplies always sell. Bilodeau concurs on the Pokemon resurgence, the power of Legos and added science-oriented items to the list. Both also agree that toy purchases for the upcoming holidays are important purchases.
“This year has been interesting for everyone,” Steinbach said. “People need to think things through and buy toys that will last and grow with the child.”