The warm excitement of playing Santa Claus for your children need not turn into the cold greed of Ebenezer Scrooge in this year of sky-high prices if you use care in choosing toy stores.
That's the advice of the Consumer Affairs Committee of Americans for Democratic Action, which has compiled its ninth annual list comparing area toy prices. The survey found price variations of up to 200 percent for the same toy at different stores.
The committee surveyed prices on 88 toys in 24 stores in the metropolitan area from Nov. 10 until Nov. 22. The toys chosen were those that local merchants expected to be big sellers this season.
One example of the wide price differences found is Milton, a new electronic speaking toy produced by Milton-Bradley, which costs $58.97 at K Mart, $69.99 at Lowen's, a speciality store, and $110 at F.A.O. Schwarz.
F.A.O. Schwarz, the nationally famous toy chain, opened its Washington store on Wisconsin avenue in June. The Schwarz price was the highest on every item surveyed, according to the committee, which reported that the same 16 toys that cost $456.31 at Lowen's cost $737.20 at Schwarz.
The committee found the lowest prices at Toys-R-Us, Juvenile Sales, Tunz-a-fun, Memco and the catalog stores -- Basco, Best and Evans.
"Low-middle" prices were found at Sears, J.C. Penny, K-Mart, Woolco, Woolworth and Zayre.
"High-middle" prices were reported at Lowen's, Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby Shop, Toys Etc., K & K, Bargaintown and Murphy's.
"High" prices were found at Toy and Hobby World, Sullivan's Toy Store, Hecht's and Woodward & Lothrup.
The widest price differences were found in Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, where 18 toys surveyed cost 14 percent more at Toy and Hobby World than at Kay-Bee and 23 percent more than at J.C. Penny.
At Landover Mall in Prince George's County, the 12 toys surveyed cost 14 percent more at K & K, the most expensive store, than at Sears, the least expensive.
The committee advised shoppers to consider added costs, such as batteries and accessories. In addition, it suggested they inspect the contents or at least a display sample of a boxed toy to make sure they are getting what they expect.
Copies of the report are available for $5 from Americans for Democratic Action, Room 850, 1411 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, or by calling 202-638-2545.