Whether you’re a hopeful child with a lengthy gift list during the holiday season, or an adult who’s still a kid at heart, there’s something magical and universally appealing about toy stores. They’re cheery, bright and have the potential to trigger both immense happiness and excitement, as well as nostalgia. And despite the closing of New York’s iconic F.A.O. Schwarz in 2015, the city remains a mecca for toy, game, craft, doll and stuffed animal enthusiasts. There are countless shops with equally extensive inventory—some brand-new and others that have remained fixtures in the city for decades.
Build-a-Bear Workshop lets kids create their own furry friend. (Courtesy of Build-a-Bear Workshop)
But a new toy trend is also picking up speed in New York, revolutionizing the ways kids and families shop today: build-it-yourself opportunities that offer kids a unique experience during which they’re able to bring to life their wildest toy fantasies. Instead of scouring aisles of toys that any child could have, these new, hands-on creative opportunities abound, allowing kids to come up with something that’s distinctly their own. No matter who you’re shopping for this season, you’ll find that perfect toy in New York City—even if that means you’ll be making it yourself.
1. The Lego Store at Rockefeller Center boasts a Pick & Build Wall, where fans of the celebrated toy brand have an opportunity to choose their own bricks, deciding on elements such as shape and color. With this option, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to creating one-of-a-kind, customized Lego sets and structures. (620 5th Ave.; 212-245-5973)
2. Though it’s technically an art studio, Tribeca’s Color Me Mine offers kids an opportunity to paint everything from comic heros and ceramic characters—ranging from Spider-Man to Hello Kitty—to animal figurines and sports paraphernalia. Fun for all ages, Color Me Mine lets kids choose a pottery object to paint and, after it’s fired, take home. (123 Baxter St.; 212-374-1710)
3. Kaleidoscope, a toy store aimed at encouraging creativity while also promoting educational experiences for kids, boasts an extensive selection of toys, games and crafts for children of all ages. But the shop also offers countless build-it-yourself and crafting opportunities for kids, whether they’re interested in creating their own wooden pirate ships or designing a duo of fashionable friendship bracelets—and everything in between. Additionally, starting in September and through the school year, Kaleidoscope opens it doors to kids, offering crafting and make-it-yourself opportunities for patrons who visit after school. (8722 3rd Ave.; 718-491-2051)
Kids create customized dolls at American Girl Place. (Courtesy of American Girl)
4. At American Girl Place, kids can browse the store with their dolls in tow, and no matter what imaginary scenario they have in mind that day, there’s an outfit, accessory or furniture set available for purchase that will cater to it. Plus, with the store’s Truly Me Signature Studio, kids can create their own line of fashionable clothes or a backpack for their dolls in in three easy steps. (609 5th Ave.; 877-247-5223)
5. Much of Toy Tokyo’s inventory comes directly from Hong Kong and Japan, but the shop also carries a litany of domestic toys and collectibles, too. Fans love the incredibly diverse selection, which includes vintage, retro and rare toys. (91 2nd. Ave.; 212-673-5424)
6. Dinosaur Hill’s window and in-store displays delight children and adults alike just as much as its retail offerings do. The shop sells everything from “handmade wonderments” like quilts and hats, to hand-carved wooden animals and finger puppets. (306 E. 9th St.; 212-473-5850)
7. The Children’s General Store, which underwent renovations and technology upgrades this past summer, offers a carefully curated and wide selection of toys, games and activities. Here, you’ll find everything you’re looking for, be it a hula hoop, stuffed animal or accessories fit for a princess. (168 E. 91st St.; 212-426-4479)
More Places to Shop
8. Build-a-Bear (2655 Richmond Ave., Staten Island Mall; 718-698-1477)
9. Kidding Around (107 E. 42nd St.; 212-972-8697)
10. Mary Arnold Toys (1178 Lexington Ave.; 212-744-8510)
– Elizabeth Nutt