Toy Recommendations from Local Toy Stores

Local Toy Store recommendations
Stock photo courtesy of Karolina Grabowska.

Four Ann Arbor toy shops share top items for the holidays.

‘Tis the season for toy shopping, and there has never been a better time to support Ann Arbor’s local toy stores than the holiday months of 2020. Four area stores offer their recommendations for the best toys and activities to surprise and delight your little (and big!) ones this year.

Learning Express

Located in Westgate Shopping Center, Learning Express is a locally-owned and operated franchised toy store. This holiday season, the hottest toys on the shelf are Squishmallows, which are drawing customers from all over the region. “People will drive from two hours away to get them, we sell about 120 of them on a Saturday,” said Ann Arbor store manager, Allyssa Allison. The “super squeezable” line of plush animals range in size from 3.5 inches up to 24 inches, and are machine washable. With a variety of characters to choose from (more than 450 exist), Squishmallows appeal to a wide range of ages and interests. 

Squishmallow
Squishmallow, photo courtesy of Learning Express.

Allison says other toy highlights include science and art activity kits. “Craft-tastic art kits by Ann Williams, a women-owned company, are doing really well here and flying out our doors,” said Allison. The Craft-tastic line offers wide-ranging activities, such as jewelry-making and paper crafts, for a variety of ages, from three years old up to adults.

Craft-tastic
Craft-tastic art kit, photo courtesy of Learning Express.

2465 W. Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor. 734-997-0707. learningexpress.com. I Hours: 11am-6pm, Monday-Wednesday; 11am-8pm, Thursday-Friday; 11am-6pm, Saturday; 12-5pm, Sunday. In-store shopping or pickup, shipping, and curbside pick-up are available.

The Little Seedling

Situated near the Goldfish Swim School, The Little Seedling specializes in strollers, car seats, and children’s apparel as well as toys and activities. For the holidays, owner Molly Ging suggests the toy Timber Tots, which she says she considers a throwback to ‘80’s classic characters like the Ewoks, Strawberry Shortcake, Little People, and the Smurfs. “I always wanted to live in a tree when I was a child in the ‘80s!” said Ging. “We’ve found that Timber Tots appeal to so many different kiddos that we recommend them all the time.” Timber Tots are ideal for children ages two to seven, but Ging says they find even siblings spend hours playing together with them. The characters and settings come in a variety of price points.

Timber Tots
Timber Tots, photo courtesy of The Little Seedling.

For those interested in upgrading the activity of their indoor playtime at home, The Little Seedling offers many options for youngsters including slides, swings, and climbing and balance activities. “We are finding parents are really seeking out ‘gross motor’ items for their playrooms and basements to keep kids physical for the winter months,” said Ging. While some items may be in high demand and sold out, Ging said to keep checking back as new shipments arrive regularly.

Also ideal for colder weather, Ging says games and art supplies are super popular right now for indoor activities. Ging suggests a new item, Hey Clay Bugs. “Hey Clay is an app-based art kit with clay that has gotten rave reviews,” said Ging. Users follow the kit’s 3D instructions to follow along to create clay creations.

Hey Clay Bugs
Hey Clay Bugs, photo courtesy of The Little Seedling.

2121 W. Stadium Blvd, Ann Arbor. 734-418-2392. thelittleseedling.com. I  Hours: Check store calendar for in-store shopping and curbside pickup hours. Shipping available.

Mudpuddles

Kerrytown’s toy store, Mudpuddles, offers a range of plush animals, family games, books, and puzzles for all ages. Co-owner Jan Benzinger recommends Shashibo cubes, which are colorful, manipulative cubes that transform into 70+ shapes, and are magnetic so multiples can join together. 

Other popular items include Makala ukuleles, which are suitable for all ages. An easy item to ship, Klutz books are all-inclusive craft kits with many titles, and suitable for ages 8-15 years old.

Klutz Books
Klutz books, photo courtesy of Jan Benzinger.

For those mesmerized by anything with wheels, Benzinger says Bruder trucks offer awesome quality. The line includes fire trucks, garbage trucks, cranes, and cement mixers.

And for the young ones in your life aged 8 and up, Star Wars origami sets include paper-folding projects from a galaxy far, far away, that is sure to keep any fan busy for hours.

Star Wars Origami
Star Wars origami sets, photo courtesy of Jan Benzinger.

407 N 5th Ave, Ann Arbor. 734-662-0022. mudpuddlesa2.com  I  Hours: 10am-5pm, Monday-Friday; 9am-5pm, Saturday; 11am-4pm, Sunday. In-store shopping, curbside pickup or shipping are all available

My Urban Toddler

At My Urban Toddler, located in the Arbor Hills shopping area, owner Rosa Lee says non-technology toys for imaginative play are the highlights this season. “Gifts to parents are things that offer children independent play,” said Lee. “You just need a minute sometimes!” Lee recommends My Urban Toddler’s board book collection so families can build their own libraries at home. “We have one of the largest collections of board books and those books do take a beating,” said Lee. She personally curates all of the books available at My Urban Toddler, ensuring engaging and high-quality content. 

For extra coziness at home, My Urban Toddler features a line of Fleece Pillowcases in a variety of prints and colors, which can also be monogrammed. “The cases fit over a standard-sized pillow but are soft and cozy,” said Lee. “These are perfect as we head into the colder months as we’re all lounging more at home.”

To encourage playtime, My Urban Toddler offers several large playsets from Melissa & Doug, including the Fresh Mart Grocery Store and the Get Well Doctor Activity Center. “It would cost a fortune to ship these directly but we happen to have a bunch in the store available for sale,” said Lee. 

010 Washtenaw Ave. Suite 107, Ann Arbor. 734-585-0788. myurbantoddler.com. I  Hours: 10-4pm, Monday-Friday; 10am-6pm, Saturday; Noon-5pm, Sunday. Curbside pickup, private appointment shopping, shipping or local delivery available.