One of the unexpected consequences of the demise of Woolworths just over a year ago has been the effect on independent toy shops.Woolies was once the biggest retailer of toys in the UK and that gap has to be filled somehow.
Luckily for those of us who like to see our high streets filled with something other than identikit chain stores, local toy shops seem to be flourishing in Hackney. Three in particular come to mind:
Buggies and Bikes in Broadway Market
The Toybox in Victoria Park
Three Potato Four in Newington Green
The great thing about these shops is that they all have a character of their own. Without wanting to sound too poncey about it, the owners seem to care about toys and almost curate their stock rather than simply ordering from a giant toy catalogue. The selection of toys is individual to each, so you don't get that sense of deja vu when you walk in the door.
I remember how magical I found toy shops when I was a child. There was a great sense of the importance of every purchase - carefully weighing up what you could afford, whether it was going to impress your friends, and whether your parents would let you buy it. (Mine had a thing against 'plastic rubbish' which was quite odd as my dad was foreman in a plastic injection moulding factory that made a lot of Fisher Price toys. These were not classed as rubbish, but the competition inevitably was.)
The Toybox is probably our favourite as it is the shop we visit most often. My son loves a little table of Wow trucks and lorries that is a honeypot for all the children who visit. Wow toys themselves are quite expensive, but the shop has lots of great pocket money purchases, including a range of collectable wooden fruit and vegetables that are displayed in a cute greengrocer's rack. Overall the shop appeals to children's imaginations with toys that will stand the test of time.
Another interesting aspect of these new toys shops is that they are not just toy shops. Partly out of economic necessity I suppose, they have added other aspects to their business models. With Toybox and Three Potato Four, it's children's hairdressing. Buggies and Bikes runs a range of classes and activities for parents and kids that makes it more of a destination for parents.
Another shop that is worth a visit is Merry Go Round in Clarence Road. Not strictly a toy shop, it stocks second hand children's items from clothes and buggies to books and toys. It's amazing to see how much you can save by picking up something nearly new. Somebody's trash can be your treasure.
Play is an important part of childhood and it's not all about buying stuff. A visit to a great toy shop can be a stimulating experience in its own right to a two year old.