At first my daughter was afraid of him. Perhaps it was his goatee or his booming voice. Or maybe it was just her toddler's natural wariness. It took many months and many visits before she became enchanted by the wizard.
But he never stopped trying to beguile her and gradually she became hypnotized by his inexhaustible stock of tricks: hand puppets and small furry animals and wonderful musical instruments. Slowly, the small man won her trust and affection.
Now when we stroll past his Connecticut Avenue shop with its slightly askew red-letter sign she calls out with 2-year-old delight, "Toy store!"
Harold Aron Goldstein, 70, is the wizard of Young Playways, 3404 Connecticut Ave. N.W. For more than 30 years he has captivated the children who come into his shop and advised their parents on sensible purchases. (Buy a toy in which the child performs the action, not the toy.") His store is packed, floor to ceiling, with involvement toys. Notably absent: battery-operated, breakable gadgets.
For three decades Goldstein has supplied toys to the children of politicians and diplomats. Caroline Kennedy's White House nursery was stocked by Young Playways. Mrs. Charles de Gaulle came into the shop on one occasion to buy toys for handicapped children, a field in which Goldstein specializes.
But it is not exclusivity that gives Young Playways its appeal.
"We're like the old family store," says Goldstein. "Parents who shopped here for their children are now grandparents shopping for their grandchildren. We have always emphasized wood as a medium. But our most popular product has been blocks. A hardwood block set is the wisest investment that any family can make. You'll throw out the child before you throw out the blocks."
Although good, sturdy toys can force parents to take out a second mortgage, Harry goldstein's hand-lettered signs draw attention to inexpensive varieties. "90% of all people can't spin a top . . . can you?" challenges one over a box of wooden tops ($1). A child can study his pet tarantula in a magnifying bug box for 50 cents. "Yes, Virginia, there are still toys for 10 cents" reads a sign above a box of miniature farm and zoo animals.
Like his handlettered sings, Harry Goldstein's spirit pervades his shop. His father was a Russian immigrant who died in 1920, leaving a wife and four sons of which Harold, age 10, was the eldest. After a stint in the Army in World War II Goldstein came to Washington with the offer of a government job and the promise of an apartment.
The job was phased out in the late '40s, and Goldstein joined the staff of Young Playways shortly after its 1950 opening as the second toy store in Washington. After a few years he bought out the original owner.
"In eight months I'll have been here 31 years," says Goldstein. "Thirty one years! I've never done anything that long in my life."
Like many small merchants Goldstein is caught in a crunch. Young Playways is only a block from the Cleveland Park Metro stop due to open in January 1981. Rents in the area have risen sharply, forcing many small businessmen to relocate.
"And the price of toys has zoomed," says Goldstein. "All wood products have gone up, but the price of plastics is beginning to skyrocket because of petrochemicals. Prices were raised twoce in 1979 and again in January 1980." p
It is, however, neither rents nor wholesale prices which may close Young Playways. As Harry Goldstein opened his store one cold morning last month a young assailant waited in his stock room. Before robbing Goldstein he struck him, fracturing his skull in two places. His weapon: one of the large wooden blocks Goldstein so prides himself in carrying.
"I'll never be the same again," says Harry Goldstein, fingering the jagged scar just below his hairline. "I'll always carry this experience within me. It's a sad price to pay for trust . . . But they tell me I'm lucky to be alive.
"I never knew how many people knew me in this area. I got so many cards, letters and plants when I was in the hospital. Some of the children sent pictures of themselves with a little note scrawled on the back so that I would know who they were.
"What will happen to Young Playways? I haven't decided. My wife retires from teaching after 30 years. We want to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I've thought about selling it, but I have pride in the Young Playways name and I'm not sure it would be continued in the tradition that I've built up."
Goldstein's assistant interrupts.A mother has come into the store for advice about a daughter who has problems with eye-hand coordination. Harry Goldstein questions the mother with the expertise born of 30 years' practice.
"Does she have a peg board? Does she like to practice sewing? Does she do puzzles -- the smaller the pieces the better."
Harry Goldstein, the wizard of Young Playways, was winning another parent and helping another child. But against the triple onslaught of crime, inflation and time, even a wizard's magic is limited.