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Best Toys

Yikes! Toy Store
306 E. Congress St.

READERS' PICK: The best toy stores just pretend to be for kids. They're really sanctuaries for developmentally arrested adults (that would be most of us) who, under the pretext of shopping for the little ones, are provided an opportunity to enjoy a guilt-free step back into the sandbox. Yikes! Toys' particular sandbox is stuffed to the rafters with all kinds of neato gew-gaws. You won't find the usual run of mass-culture death and destruction here, nor evidence of Barney or the Smurfs, but instead an array of glow-in-the-dark skulls, super balls, squishy rubber things, retro T-shirts, plastic dinosaurs, and lots of other cool stuff. It's a paradise for kids of all ages.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: While the movie/TV/toy generators haven't had a big-hit, must-have sensation toy in a few months, Toys R Us (two locations: 4525 N. Oracle Road; 5355 E. Broadway Blvd.) continues to rank high among readers. Sure, there are lots of places to find toys, but none with two aisles of superheroes, and then two more aisles of Barbie and her entourage. New-fangled and classic games are in big supply here, along with a wide range of Nintendo and other electronic gew-gaws. The center aisles look like the school bike rack of every child's fantasy, tightly lined with a row of mountain bikes, moto-cross and go-cars to test drive. Your kid can try out the combat tank or the Barbie jeep, but be warned: You are the one who must then convince them this expensive toy is for someone else's kid.

CLUE IN: If yo-yos are your thing, or if you have children aged 8 to 14, chances are you've already visited the Playmaxx Inc. store (2947 E. Grant Road) in the shopping center at Grant and Country Club roads. But did you know that it now houses the soon-to-be-world-famous International Museum of Yo-Yo History? There you can see the oldest known yo-yo, a 1904 toy from the St. Louis World's Fair; and a real gold yo-yo which was a party favor at the Vanderbilt's 1932 gala. Playmaxx's Pro-Yo and Bumblebee yo-yos have been the rage all over the country for a couple of years now, and with good reason. These yo-yos, which range in price from $9.99 to $30, have wooden axles, ball bearings, brake pads and all kind of fancy technology to enhance your yo-yoing pleasure without ruining the overall appeal of this old-fashioned toy. Want to learn tricks that'll leave your friends speechless? Playmaxx offers classes and an instructional Vid-E-Yo by famous spin master Yo-Hans. Call for current class schedules and prices.

CLUE IN: The business reports say profits are down at the mega-toy chain stores, but that doesn't mean the independents are rolling in it. We mourn the loss of Whiz Kids this year. But two local stalwarts in these uneasy times are Mrs. Tiggy-Winkles, 4811 E. Grant Road, and Kids Center, 1725 N. Swan Road. These stores bring so much joy to the already delightful task of toy shopping. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkles has a corner of fantasy and dress-up, mostly for little girls, with glittery wands, feathery boas and skirts made of chiffon and silk. Lovely music boxes and tea sets offer whim and reverie. Castles and knights, cowboys and reptiles, dinosaurs and aliens--all can be found in large quantity, so there's no shortage of pretend here. For the younger bunch, a variety of eye-stimulating and developmentally appropriate manipulative toys line the shelves, from the old-fashioned jack-in-the-box to the neo-modern, black-and-white plastic. Do not go into this store in a passive mode. Toys are always in motion at Tiggy-Winkles; the owners and staff seem to try 'em all out with gusto...and they'll expect you to do likewise.

Around the corner and down a few blocks on Swan is Kids Center. So many possibilities are packed into this tiny store. The puzzle and PlayMobil room in back has a little toy town set up, so you can park the kids while you shop. A full wall of books overflows into the aisles, with lots of classics and new titles alike. The shelves of stuffed animals offer some of the most appealing, cuddly pets available. An array of science kits, art projects, games and challenges fill every possible space. An extensive collection of CDs, tapes, videos and musical instruments is also inviting. You won't find the latest Saturday-morning-cartoon-related superhero here, but you will find an abundance of choices for fun, learning and frolic.

CLUE IN: Why buy something made in China when you can make it yourself at home? Colorcraft Inc., 4759 E. Speedway Blvd., sells interactive playthings that need no batteries. Everything you need to create great art and have fun in the process is here under one roof. Besides the usual notebooks and colored paper (and 20 different kinds of crayons), Colorcraft has art activity books on everything from face painting to cootie catchers; origami paper and how-to books; cool stuff to make your own stationary; Fimo and Sculpey and instant papier maché to make your own toys; plaster cloth for mummifying younger siblings; modeling clay in more than a rainbow of colors; and sidewalk chalk for your premiere public art showcase. Be sure to pick up some glitter and tissue paper to make cascarones!

Case History

1997 Winner: Toys-R-Us
1996 Winner: Yikes! Toy Store
1995 Winner: Yikes! Toy Store

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