The pandemic has upended millions of traditional holidays around the world, but one thing is still going as usual: children are making wish lists and hoping to find their favorite toys under the tree.
Local independent toy store owners have stepped up throughout the pandemic to keep children entertained during lockdowns and virtual school. They have also changed the way they operate by offering delivery services, curbside pickup, revamped websites for online ordering and personal shopping. Along with in-store capacity restrictions, increased sanitation and mask requirements, they are maintaining these changes to provide safer shopping during the pandemic holiday season.
They also recommend people to buy early. “Most of the companies we order are selling so many things because they’re so behind in production,” said Natasha Loos of Cedarburg Toy Company. “I tell our customers if there’s something special on your list, don’t wait. If you can, grab it because we just don’t know if it’ll be there when you return.”
Puzzles have been huge in 2020. Michael Stuhlmacher of Winkie’s Toys and Variety in Whitefish Bay said his store sold more puzzles in the first two months of the pandemic than they usually sell in an entire year.
Milwaukee-area toy store owners say the puzzles have remained popular throughout the summer and fall, and predict their popularity will increase even more as the cold winter months wind down. install. So they stocked up on traditional and original puzzles.
The Cedarburg Toy Company has partnered with the Cedarburg Historical Society to sell a holiday-themed puzzle inspired by the historic Rivoli theater and created by a local artist.
Cedarburg’s toy store is also selling 3D puzzles for the first time, which proved to be a challenge for Loos.
“We’ve collected some of Harry Potter’s 3D puzzles to display in our showcase,” Loos said. “We’ve never built them before, and they’re definitely more challenging, but also very satisfying because when you’re done, you have something to display.”
Maria Luther, owner of The Smiley Barn in Delafield, said requests for puzzles were coming in not just for kids, but also for adults during the pandemic. That’s why she and her team stocked up on 500- and 1,000-piece puzzles.
Matt Poulson of Ruckus and Glee in Wauwatosa said his store was “filled to the brim” with games and puzzles in anticipation of the holidays.
“We’re Wisconsin residents and we’re used to hiding this time of year anyway,” Poulson said. “This year more than ever.”
Games available on Ruckus and Glee include nostalgic favorites like Pretty, Pretty Princess, and a tabletop baseball game.
Luther said a board game called Trekking the National Parks was popular at The Smiley Barn. Additionally, fittingly for 2020, it has seen increased interest in the classic co-op game Pandemic as well as toy doctor kits.
Luther suspects people are looking for comfort this year; she sees it in the requests she receives for nostalgic toys, such as Lite Brites and lava lamps.
Stuhlmacher agrees; he said Winkie’s was selling more old-school non-electronic toys like dress-up accessories and kitchen toys as parents searched for things to keep their kids away from the screens that dominate their lives during virtual school.
Everything to occupy the children indoors
Indoor toys are usually big sellers during the holidays; they have only grown in popularity as the pandemic has kept children out of school and after-school activities.
Poulson said Ruckus and Glee added indoor toys they hadn’t sold before, like indoor trampolines and indoor swings.
Popular indoor toys at Winkie’s include science kits, magnetic toys, LEGOs and craft supplies.
Loos is excited about a LEGO-compatible marble run, as well as Crazy Aaron Thinking Putty, especially the holiday-themed versions — like a “melting” snowman putty — and a DIY scented one.
The Smiley Barn has a Playmobil showroom, and Luther said the most popular Playmobil themes this year seem to be “Scooby Doo” and “Back to the Future.”
And baby Yoda
Poulson expects a talking plush of The Child from “The Mandalorian” to sell well this year because if there’s anything that can save 2020, it’s Baby Yoda.