By Emily Williams
At a toy store, one thing is always certain, things are going to be fun.
Over the Mountain toy stores Homewood Toy and Hobby, Smith’s Variety and Snoozy’s Kids are in the business of fun, and this year that business will please both parents and kids alike.
“I wouldn’t say we are selling educational toys, but that the toys themselves get your brain and body working in some way,” said Snoozy’s Kids owner George Jones.
Mom and Dad may find their favorite toys in the Apple Store, but there are popular toys this year that are sure to draw the kids away from the screen.
“I’ve been in the toy industry for years, and you always see things make a comeback in one way or another,” said Smiths Variety buyer Steve Saddath.
Games are making a huge resurgence with new variations on old classics such as Yeti in my Spaghetti, which essentially is a comical twist on pick-up sticks, for $19.99 at Smith’s. The game also be found at Homewood Toy and Hobby and Snoozy’s Kids.
“We had a game like this years ago where you tried to keep a little man from falling as you pulled out the sticks,” Saddath added. “It’s the same game, they have just added a new character.”
There are not one but two new spins on the classic Rubik’s cube.
For the mastermind who has tired of the old square, there’s the Star Cube. It starts out looking much like the older model, until you pull it apart to reveal an even more complex interior puzzle.
“People absolutely love the Rubik’s cube and this is just another variation,” Jones said. “We also have a game version that you can play with a friend that looks a bit like battle ship.”
The Rubik’s Cube Game is $19.99 and can be found at Snoozy’s. The Star Cube is $14.99 and can be found at all three stories.
One of Homewood Toy and Hobby manager and buyer Jamie Marix’ favorite spins on a classic is the revamped pogo stick.
“A lot of younger kids don’t weigh enough to use a regular pogo stick, so this smaller one is perfect for their size,” she said. “It counts your jumps and gets you really moving. Also, it comes in a unicorn shape, which has been very popular. Unicorns are the big things right now.”
The Kidoozie Pogo Jumper is available at Homewood Toy and Hobby with three options ranging from $14.99 to $19.99.
“It’s all about getting kids off of devices and talking,” said Homewood Toy and Hobby owner Tricia McCain.
Though the Christmas rush can safely be deemed “begun” – Homewood Toy already is open seven days a week – the preparations for toy store owners began well in advance.
“I’d say we started as soon as February,” Jones said. “I like to try and find a balance between those things you can find at any big store, but I also go to conventions where companies only sell to small-business stores like mine.”
All three stores have selections that have been personally curated by the stores owners and buyers to suit the local demographic.
From Play Doh to Silly Putty, toy companies love to give kids the latest moldable mess. Mad Mattr is different in that it is virtually mess free. You can rub it into the carpet without leaving a stain and sit it in the hot sun without it drying out. Available at Snoozy’s for $13.99 in assorted colors. Also available at Smith’s and Homewood Toy for $12.99.
Everyone loves to play make-believe, and with the new Disney Princess Electronic Magical Tiara Adventures Game, girls simply turn on the crown, place it on their head and await instructions. Available at Snoozy’s for $34.99. Also available at Homewood Toy.
Boys and Girls ages 5-6 and up can become one with a game with the Immerse Plus VR Goggles. Simply download free apps to your phone and hook it up to the goggles for a virtual reality gaming experience. Available at Homewood Toy for $39.99.
For the more tech-savvy kids, the Blade Inductrix drone is available. “Drones are still popular and, though it’s in our hobby section, I’d call it a toy,” Marix said. With guards protecting kids from its propellers, the Inductrix is good for ages 12 and up. Available at Homewood Toy for $69.99. There also is an FPV option that includes a video camera for $199.99.
Get your kids out of the house and in the yard with the Slackers Ninjaline’s spin on the American Ninja Warrior stunts. “All you need is two good strong trees in the yard and you have your own Ninja Warrior in your yard,” Jones said. The Slackers Ninjaline kit can be found for $99.99 at Snoozy’s and Homewood Toy.
If you don’t have the trees or yard to accommodate a Ninjaline, the Gorilla Jump is an alternative for the indoors. Much like a pull up bar, all you need is a sturdy doorway. “When I saw it at market, I swung on this thing as hard as I could and it didn’t fall down,” Jones said. For $159.99, this product is available at Snoozy’s and Homewood Toy.
Snoozy’s is offering the newest thing in swing sets with the Slackers platform swing, available in a variety of shapes and one in color at $74.99 and up.
Replacing those plastic basketball sets, the Kong Air Sports basketball goal is inflatable and can be taken down after play and stored away for another day. Available at Homewood Toy and Snoozy’s for $39.99.
Disc Slam is the new corn hole, according to Marix, but instead of tossing sacks into holes, players must try to get a disc into a slot. Available at Homewood Toy for $34.99.
Sudduth described the Passback as “a play on the football. One side is flat so you can throw it against a wall and play catch with yourself.” The Passback can be found at Smith’s and Snoozy’s in various style options from $19.99-$35.99.
The newest thing in baby dolls, the Madame Alexander Babblebaby adapts to the speech of its owner and gives appropriate responses – in baby talk. “There is a way to turn it off so it doesn’t talk all night,” Jones assured customers. This doll is $44.99 and is available at Snoozy’s. Homewood Toy and Hobby also has a selection of Babblebabies beginning at $44.99.
Sick of worrying about youngsters turning your home into their newest art installations? With the Scribble n’ Play, children use an ink-less stylus to create drawings that stay on the toy’s surface. Available for $34.99 at Snoozy’s and Homewood Toy.
A play on the old race car, Max Traxx Race incorporates lights and glow-in-the-dark pieces. Available for $99.99 at all stores.
Lux is an interesting construction tool, said Sudduth. “If you go on YouTube, you will find a bunch of videos that teach kids how to use these pieces to create things like molecules or a strand of DNA,” he said. Available at Smith’s from $29.99 & up.
Magformers have been around for a couple of years, but they are still as popular as ever. Kids can construct with magnetic pieces that are similar to Lego. Available at Smith’s and Homewood Toy for $12.99 and up.
Revisiting a popular toy from last year, Light Stax lets kids create their own nightlight with Lego-esque pieces that light up. Sets can be found for $19.99 and up at Smith’s as well as Homewood Toy.
The ever-popular frisbee gets a new twist with slots for glow sticks to be inserted to light up nighttime play. Available for $19.99 at Snoozy’s. Also available at Homewood Toy and Smith’s Variety.
Another play on an old favorite, Snoozy’s has a selection of light-up Slinkies for $9.99.
Kor is a play on the Rubik’s Cube, asking kids to use various magnetic pieces attached to a metal core to create an egg shape and then follow directions to create other shapes. Available at Smith’s and Homewood for $39.99.
For kids who like to get crafty, crafting kits are always popular. Marix swears by the Ann Williams Group Craft-tastic Bird House Kit, in which kids use colored string to decorate a plastic birdhouse. Available at Homewood Toy for $14.99.
SpiceBox sets are one of Sudduth’s favorite craft-based toys at Smith’s. Available from $9.99 to $29.99, each box includes every item the child needs to complete the project. Sudduth’s bestseller is the rock painting set. Also available at Homewood Toy.
For kids who want an instrument and parents who appreciate a bit of quiet, the Rock and Roll It allows kids to play their own music on a plastic mat surface with the option of plugging in headphones. The toy also has the capability to record the child’s musical creation and play it back. Available in piano or drums, this product can be found at all three stores for $49.99.
Lego never goes out of style. “This year, we are only offering the 2016 (Lego) sets. That way you don’t have to worry about buying someone something that they already have,” Jones said. You can find a variety of Lego sets at various price points at both Snoozy’s and Homewood Toy.
“Sky Scrapers have been around for probably more than a decade,” said Sudduth. Kids can launch discs two stories in the air or higher with this ever-popular toy. Available at Smith’s for $9.99.
The Airzooka has been scaring customers at Smith’s for many years. Simply pull and release a band and the contraption launches a gust of air at an object (or person) all the way across the room. Available at Smith’s for $19.99.
“I finally found the real Lincoln Logs,” Sudduth said. After sifting through copycat brands, Sudduth was proud to bring the classic construction toy set back to Smith’s shelves, ranging from $29.99 to $149.99.
Who needs boring old badminton when you can have Jazzminton, with feathered shuttlecocks that fly at a variety of speeds? Available at Smith’s for $14.99. Also available at Homewood Toy.
“I’m always surprised by how popular our trains are,” Marix said. Classic electric trains come in a variety of themes from Polar Express to real-life railways. Available at Homewood toy for $279.99.
“Rody Horses have been around for probably 50 years,” said Marix. These plastic inflatable horses can be customized with additional rocking or rolling attachments. Available in a variety of colors for $54.99.
“Puppet theaters are something we sell a lot during Christmas-time,” Marix said. “They are a classic that never gets old and they make a big statement.” Puppet theaters are available at Homewood Toy for $89.99 with a wide selection of puppets at various prices.
Etch A Sketch is a staple around the holidays. “It says it’s suitable for most ages, but I’d put it at ages 6 or 7 and up,” said Marix. Available at Homewood Toy for $17.99.
“Electric Football is something that any dad or their grandfather will remember playing with when they were young,” Marix said. The classic hasn’t changed at all over the years, available at Smith’s and Homewood Toy for $59.99.
If we ever get a real cold front, Homewood Toy is prepared. Its selection of Flexible Flyer sleds range from $16.99 for plastic sleds and $199 or more for those classic red wooden and metal sleds.
Who doesn’t recognize a Jack in the Box? “We sell a ton of these around Christmas because they remind parents of their own childhood,” Marix said. Homewood Toy is offering up this classic toy for $24.99.
For teeny-tiny tots, Smith’s favors the wooden toy brand Haba. They hold up for much longer than plastic blocks, according to Sudduth. Available in a variety of options from $9.99 and up.
Tenzi’s newest game, Slapzi, is both fun and educational. Holding double-sided picture cards, players turn over a card that reads something like, “Has legs,” and then slaps down one of their cards that has that attribute. “Whenever I see this company’s name on a game, I’m excited,” Jones said. “They don’t mess around.” Slapzi is available at Snoozy’s for $19.99
Remember Simon? His high-tech cousin The Wave asks the same of its players. Just watch the pattern and recreate it. Instead of pushing buttons, the Wave asks you to wave a hand over sensors to make patterns and includes five different game options. You can find this at Snoozy’s for $34.99.
Available at all three stores, Mastermind Toys’ newest game, Bumper Bots, doesn’t need any batteries. Suited for two to four players, the wooden game requires kids to launch discs from their side of the board. Seems easy, according to Sudduth, until you have three other players’ pieces blocking your way. Available at all three stores for $39.99.
Dr. Eureka is the newest matching game, according to Marix. Players must match a color pattern to one displayed on a card by moving colored balls between test tubes without touching them with their hands. Available at Homewood Toy for $19.99.
Mad Libs is the perfect stocking stuffer for kids about 8 and up, said Marix. The word game is available at Homewood Toy for $3.99 a book
The Mouthguard Challenge is a hilarious new game, said Sudduth. One player puts a mouthguard in his or her mouth and other players try to guess what word they are saying. Available at Smith’s and Homewood Toy for $19.99
A new version of the Would You Rather? board game is out and available at Smith’s for $19.99.
State Smarts is an educational card game that tests kids’ knowledge of the United States. Available at Smith’s for $12.99.
Stinky Pig is the new hot potato, according to Sudduth. Kids pass around a toy pig until the music stops and the losing kid gets a smelly surprise. Available at Smith’s for $11.99. Also available at Snoozy’s.
Wet Head is the new Pie in the Face Game, Sudduth said. A player wears a hat filled with water and spins the hat for a certain amount of time, they pass it on to the next player until someone spins it and gets a head covered in water. Available at Smith’s for $19.99
New and Improved
It’s all about the sense of smell this season with everything from scented markers to pillows that offer up such scents as cotton candy and sweet tarts. You can find pillows at Snoozy’s for $29.99 and up and purses and wristlets from $11 to $34.99. Homewood Toy also has a selection of pillows and purses for $25 and up.
Corolle “Bebe Calin Bisou” is the hottest new Corolle doll. “Every doll from this brand smells like vanilla,” Sudduth said, which is a big draw for kids. Available at Smith’s and Snoozy’s for $39.99 and up.
Sudduth calls Dreamland Fairy the everyday version of Elf on a Shelf. Kids have a little wooden house they can decorate for their fairy. “We used to keep the fairies that go with the homes in stock as well, but I, to be honest, they were kind of terrifying,” Sudduth laughed. Kids can have their own fairy home, sans scary fairy, at Smith’s for $25.99. Available at Homewood Toy.
One of Jones’ favorite items in the store is the Blankie Tails. Kids slip into these “blankets” like they would sleeping bags, and their legs are transformed into shark and mermaid tails. Available at Snoozy’s for $35.99.
Though adults may not know much about it, Shopkins is the hottest thing for young girls. Think Polly Pocket if she lived in a store or kitchen and was a cute piece of toast or an apple. “We have series six in, which had to be ordered six months ago,” Jones said. Available at Snoozy’s and Homewood for $4.99 and up.
Infants can’t quite write their own Christmas list, but according to Marix, the Oombee Cube is perfect for little ones. Babies can fit shapes into the cube’s holes with ease as each piece is connected to the cube by string. “It’s also soft and silicone so you don’t have to worry about letting your baby gum on it,” Maris said. Available at Homewood Toy for $16.99.
Wee Baby Stella is the perfect doll for smaller babies, said Marix. It’s made of cloth with all attached pieces sewn on so that kids can gum or chew on the baby without hurting themselves. Available at Snoozy’s and Homewood Toy for $19.99.
Whimsical and fun, according to Jones, the Living Royal Socks are a novelty that he can’t keep on his shelves. They are great stocking stuffers at $7.99 apiece and are available in a variety of holiday themes.
Pillow Pets are still popular among kids, combining the cuteness of a stuffed animal with the comfort of a pillow. Available at Smith’s for $29.99. Also available at Homewood Toy.