Conventional gift-giving advice is that experiences are far better than material items. But a toy is a toy, and the stores below offer items beyond the ordinary.
The tiny toy shop that spills onto the sidewalk at 7050 Carroll Ave. in Takoma Park is the work of owner Lisa Ripkin, who has run it for eight years. Son Eli, 13, also helps out. Ripkin uses her background in psychology and education to “find the right [toy] match for somebody and their child.” Ten to 15 percent of the stock, Ripkin says, carries a fair-trade stamp. She also works with suppliers to get “fairly made” goods, especially sporting goods.
The all-ages inventory includes Barefoot Books, Family Pastimes cooperative games (Canada), Putumayo world music for kids, toys by Seedling (New Zealand), and the Cuatro Suyos line of tiny llamas, toucans, owls and other animals — handmade in Peru.
This Arlington shop has grown dramatically in 35 years from its original 600-square-foot Lee Highway incarnation. The store is now at 1220 N. Fillmore St. in Clarendon. “I had a vision of what I wanted [the store] to look like,” says owner Sue Pyatt. “A Dickensian look with ... Victorian brackets.” The store has a large selection of baby toys, is light on battery-operated items and has “a strong emphasis on wood,” says Pyatt. German brand Haba’s wooden toys are “durable [and] can be passed on.”
The store in the District’s Chevy Chase neighborhood is a bright, spacious shop with more than a dozen sections. Toy-loving owner Steven Aarons founded Barstons (four area stores) 30 years ago. Inventory includes Euro and strategy games (Codenames) and Swiss- and German-made engineering toys. Also here: unusual Lego sets (Bionicle, “Doctor Who”), construction toys by Fischertechnik and Arckit architectural sets.
Aarons tests the toys himself. “I play with more than 10 games for every one I order,” he says.