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The pandemic has upended millions of traditional holiday celebrations throughout the world, but one thing is still happening as usual — kids 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 kids entertained during lockdowns and virtual school. They’ve also changed the way they operate by providing delivery services, curbside pickup, revamped websites for online ordering and personal shopping. Along with in-store capacity restrictions, increased sanitation and mask requirements, they’re maintaining those changes to provide safer shopping during the pandemic holiday season.
They also recommend that people buy early. “Most companies we order through are sold out of so many things because their production is so behind,” said Natasha Loos of Cedarburg Toy Company. “I’m telling 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 will be there when you come back.”
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Here’s what the owners of Cedarburg Toy Company, Ruckus and Glee, The Smiley Barn and Winkie’s predict will be bestsellers this holiday season.
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 a whole year.
Toy store owners throughout the Milwaukee area say that puzzles have remained popular throughout the summer and fall, and predict their popularity will pick up even more as the cold winter months set in. So they’ve stocked up — on both traditional and quirky puzzles.
The Cedarburg Toy Company teamed up with the Cedarburg Historical Society to sell a holiday-themed puzzle inspired by the historic Rivoli Theater and created by a local artist.
The Cedarburg toy store is also selling 3D puzzles for the first time — which proved to be a challenge for Loos.
“We put some of the Harry Potter 3D puzzles together to display in our window,” said Loos. “We had never built them before, and they’re definitely more challenging, but also really satisfying because when you’re done, you have something to put on display.”
Maria Luther, owner of The Smiley Barn in Delafield, said the requests for puzzles have been coming in not only for kids, but also for adults during the pandemic. That’s why she and her staff have stocked up on plenty of 500 and 1,000-piece puzzles.
Matt Poulson of Ruckus and Glee in Wauwatosa said his store is “stocked to the brim” with games and puzzles in preparation for the holidays.
“We’re Wisconsinites and we’re used to hunkering down at this time of year anyway,” said Poulson. “This year more than ever.”
Games available at Ruckus and Glee includie some nostalgic favorites like Pretty, Pretty Princess and a tabletop baseball game.
Luther said a board game called Trekking the National Parks has been popular at The Smiley Barn. Also, appropriately for 2020, she’s seen increased interest in the classic cooperative game Pandemic as well as toy doctor kits.
Luther suspects people are looking for comfort this year; she sees that in requests she’s getting for nostalgic toys, such as Lite Brites and lava lamps.
Stuhlmacher agrees; he said Winkie’s has been selling more old-school, non-electronic toys like dress-up accessories and play kitchen toys as parents look for things to keep their kids away from the screens that dominate their lives during virtual school.
Anything to keep kids occupied indoors
Indoor toys are usually big sellers during the holidays; they’ve only increased in popularity as the pandemic has kept kids from school and extracurricular activities.
Poulson said Ruckus and Glee has added some indoor toys they haven’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 marble run that is compatible with LEGO, as well as Crazy Aaron Thinking Putty, particularly the holiday-themed versions — like a snowman putty that “melts” — and a DIY-scented one.
The Smiley Barn has a Playmobil show room, 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.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Personal shopping, curbside pickup and Baby Yoda: Here’s what to expect from local toy stores for Christmas 2020.