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Best Place To Buy Cool Toys

306 E Congress St.

READERS' PICK: Inhabited by a large selection of reptilian replicas, Yikes! specializes in toys that teach as well as tickle. Rap gently on the glass top of the wind-up toy counter and see who feels like dancing. Beneath the glass is where they keep all the old-fashioned, metal wind-up art, guarded by the clown in a wooden box who looks like he wants to kill you. It's a great place to dredge up forgotten childhood memories or help create new ones for your own kids, or the kids you wish were your own. Browsing with the chronologically challenged should give you plenty of time to look over the fine selection of postcards while they touch each and every damn thing in the store.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: It's Saturday morning, and your child is whining that the powers that be have added a new hue to the Mighty Morhpin' Power Ranger cast, and she's got to have this one this morning or the entire future populations of Legoland will be destroyed. What's a sympathetic parent to do? Brace yourself and head for the nearest Toys-R-Us, 4525 N. Oracle Road, or 5355 E. Broadway. This monumental homage to commercially sanctioned fun is virtually unnavigable; but if you can catch a vested employee rushing past, they'll point you in the right direction. And who minds getting lost? The first aisle, full of the weird and inexpensive, makes us giddy. By the time we hit the small vehicle area, we've flung aside fiscal responsibility like a Nerf boomerang. While the kids go crazy over Captain Puke action figures, we saunter over to the game aisle to revisit our fond memories of long winter evenings of Scrabble, Clue, Boggle, Monopoly and Pictionary. Just looking at Operation makes us 10 years younger. Bzzzzzt. Damn that funny bone!

STAFF PICK: We can't say enough about Kid's Center, 1725 N. Swan Road. And we're not the only ones: The Arizona Republic (really) in 1994 voted this the best kids' book store in all of Arizona. And in 1995, the Tucson Area Reading Council recognized Kid's Center for its exemplary promotion of literacy. Wow. We love the events they host, like the authors they bring in (look for a very hot pop-up artist around Thanksgiving weekend) and the demos they do of new toy merchandise. We appreciate going to a toy store that's not filled with commercial tie-ins to Disney and other children's movies. Kid's Center is noted for its extensive newsletter, sometimes 20 pages, that's filled with book reviews. Also, they have quite the reputation with schools and teachers as an excellent place to find materials to supplement activities going on in the classroom. Kid's Center offers a personal shopping service and evening hours by appointment. As we tour the store, we see an extensive dress-up selection, safari animals, easels, jewelry kits, stencils, magnetic paper dolls, puppets, pint-sized picnic baskets, and tea sets, puzzles, infant toys, globes, magic supplies, stuffies, stickers, stamps, books, books, and more books, music and book tapes, videos, and that's just the beginning. Go visit Retha and Jim Davis, "helping kids grow."

A PERFECT 10: First off let's get the name straight. It is not Tiggly Wiggly, Piggy Winkle's, Piggly Wiggly, Tinkle Wiggy's, Tiddly Wiggle, or Tiggy Pinkle's! This wonderful toy store is called Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's (4811 E. Grant Road), a very British sounding name, because it's named for a beloved Beatrix Potter character. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's is as charming as its name, too. This locally owned and operated store is stocked with a selection of toys, books, puzzles, games, dolls, music and all of the other necessities for a positively magical childhood. These are not mass-produced, mass-marketed, licensed character toys. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's offers a good selection of carefully crafted toys to pique a child's imagination as well as capture his or her fancy. You'll find wooden toys from Germany and Denmark, soft fabric dolls from Italy and France, tin soldiers from England, and a huge selection of wonderful toys that were made in America. What you won't find is an over-large, over-lit, overwhelming, over-stimulating warehouse-style toy store. A word of caution though--don't run into Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's when you're in a hurry. Although the service is great, and the salespeople helpful, you'll regret the rush. Stop in when you have time to meander and get lost in the fantasy world of a Nutcracker Suite childhood. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's is located in the Crossroads Festival shopping center.

Case History

1998 Winner: Yikes! Toy Store
1997 Winner: Toys-R-Us
1995 Winner: Yikes! Toy Store

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