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Best Place To Buy Cool Toys

4525 N. Oracle Road
5355 E. Broadway

READERS' PICK: These might be mainstream, movie-merchandising, Disney-centric playthings, but their sheer volume commands attention. Who can deny the titillation of walking amidst towering aisles of Sony Playstations, Nano Puppies and that sacrificial lamb of the '90s, Barbie--her painted-on smile shining through a sparkly rainbow of restrictive fashion and manic hobbying. If it's mass-produced anywhere in the free or not-so-free world, you'll probably find it here. Unless it's temporarily out of stock. Never mind the light-headed buzz of over stimulation as children beg and red-shirted adolescent employees blur past as the PA demands all available cashiers report to the front lines. Take comfort that Toys-R-Us is the extreme sport of American consumer culture. That is a comfort, right?

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: "Do you carry Tamagotchi?" a customer asks. The guy in the yellow plaid shirt squints uncomprehendingly. "Um, you know, those virtual pets on a key chain--a digital cat, dog, monkey, dinosaur or alien. You push different buttons to play with them?" He squints again, and shakes his head, "No, we don't have those, and I can tell you that we will never have those."

That's just one reason to love Yikes!, located downtown at 300 E. Congress St. Yikes! specializes in fun things that stimulate creativity and learning, like Uncle Milton's Mini-Ant Farm which comes complete with ant-watcher's guide and a coupon for mail-order ants, all for less than a 10-spot. Or the Omni Star, a kinetic discovery kit that'll teach you more about geometry after an hour of playing than you learned in a semester of high-school math. Gyro-topped space ships, myriad rubber bugs, animals with moving parts, alien figurines, squirting eyeballs, vintage wind-up toys, sock monkeys and all manner of magnetic masterpieces are just a few of the offerings that make Yikes! more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

A REAL SCREAM: Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's, 4811 E. Grant Road, is exactly like the toy store of which happy childhood memories are made. Tucked neatly into a corner of the Crossroads Festival Shopping Center, it's a wonderland of children's toys: slightly dark, with the scent of polished wood, and pulsating to world-beat music for kids. In fact, in addition to the imported wooden toys, science kits, beautifully crafted dolls and cuddly stuffed animals, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's has an extensive display of children's music for sale. Raffi to Sharon, Lois, and Bram, and even Cheech Marin are represented on the cassette rack. The books and costumes for dress-up are big hits with children, too. The merchandise is not of the mass-produced, mass-marketed variety, nor is it so overly nostalgic that your children won't know what to do with it. Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's offers carefully selected, beautifully made toys that will encourage hours of creative play. What a treasure trove!

A REAL SCREAM: Toys R Us? Get a life! Home Depot (three locations) sells toys for kids with brains! This place stocks tiny tools (ages 2 and up) that give lasting pleasure into adulthood; building materials for your secret fort or tree house; plaster of Paris for casting and sculpting and making mummies and whatnot; hose nozzles that go from jet to mist for cool summer soakings; and everything you need to make mosaic stepping stones. Child-sized gardening tools, gourd seeds, hummingbird feeders...do we need to go on? A little imagination and the possibilities become endless.

Case History

1998 Winner: Yikes! Toy Store
1996 Winner: Yikes! Toy Store
1995 Winner: Yikes! Toy Store

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