Story by Emily Williams • Photos by Jordan Wald
What have you learned about the importance of toys during this pandemic?
During the early stages of the pandemic, everyone was stuck together. So, having stuff to do together as a family has been so important. It’s easy for members of a family to go off and do their own thing. I find our kids doing that, going to their rooms. It takes a bit of effort to find things that everybody can do together. That’s why games or puzzles, even though it is nothing new, have been something that is so popular because families are wanting to spend more time together.
What have you learned about your customers and yourself in your store during this pandemic?
If people know what they want, they’re just going to go buy it online. People come to Smith’s and other small businesses to be treated like a person. Customers want to be engaged with, they don’t want to be just a number.
I think that’s why people continue to shop at small businesses like ours. They want the personal experience. They know they can come here and get a great suggestion and they know they are going to be taken care of.
We’ve been blown away by just how great our customers have been through this pandemic, the loyalty of our customers wanting to go out of their way to shop at a small store like ours when they don’t have to. They know the importance of trying to keep businesses like ours around. We appreciate that. We couldn’t say enough kind things about our customers and the people in our community.
What have people (Santa’s helpers) been buying for the holidays so far?
The LumiPets have been something that started selling very quickly and the pet frogs, believe it or not. We have people buying them and asking us to keep it for them. So, we’ll sell them a frog and then keep it in the back and take care of it. We did that for a birthday and we’ll be doing that for Christmas. A lot of people are buying things ahead of time because they want to make sure that we don’t run out.
New and Exciting
A new line that Brad and his team are excited about is Hand Stand Kitchen, which includes fully-functional baking sets. Prices vary for the product.
“With COVID-19 leaving people stuck at home, baking has really become popular again with kids,” he said. “It looks colorful, like toys, but every bit can be used.”
Power Drivers, $29.99, have put a creative spin on the classic remote control car.
“It’s a truck and a remote control car, but you take everything apart and put it back together with the power drill that comes with it,” Brad said.
Crafts are always a huge seller for both boys and girls, Brad said. For this season, it’s all about Creagami, $14.99-24.99. Like origami, the base is foldable paper that is used to create solid 3D objects.
“One of our biggest sellers so far have been Froggies, $39.99, believe it or not,” Brad said. Froggies are biospheres that are home to two African dwarf frogs. The low-maintenance kits also come with a year’s supply of food. “They say they will live for about 6-8 years, but some people have had theirs for 10-12 years,” he said.
Klee Kids makeup sets have been a big hit with girls, Brad said.
“What is so great about this is that it is all-natural and made in the United States.” The line includes eyeshadows, blushes and nail polishes and other products.
“We’ve had this for about a month now and we’ve already had to re-order,” he said.
The Faux Bow Upshot, $22.99, is what it sounds like, a bow and arrow set made out of foam.
“You can shoot this up to 100-150 feet,” Brad said. “The pro version shoots up to 200 feet.”
You can never go wrong with a remote control car, and drones have proved to stand the test of time. The Turbo Runner, $36.99, offers a little bit of both.
“It will roll along the ground, fly up to the ceiling and run along the walls,” Brad said.
“Games and puzzles have been huge throughout this pandemic,” Brad said. “I can’t tell you how many games we have sold.”
Brand new favorites that have arrived in time for the holidays are Drone Home, $28.99, and Not It, $16.99.
“Anything that shoots out or flies, boys just love,” Brad said, and Nerf is always on the cutting edge.
While the Nerf Blaster Scooter, $149.99, isn’t new this year, it is still just as popular.
Classic building-block kits, including Magnetiles, $59.99 and up, have always been popular but have experienced a resurgence during the pandemic.
“Parents are just looking for more ways to encourage pretend play or building, anything that gets kids away from screens,” Brad said.
The Paint Your Own series of kits, at varying prices, is a classic crafting option that includes a variety of painting projects, from a wooden pallet to stepping stones, vases and plates.
For younger age groups, Brad suggests considering something from the Hape line of wooden play pieces. “The Monster Math Scale has been really popular,” he said. “They are great toys that are built to last.”
EeBoo offers plenty of fun, artsy products for creative kids, Brad said.
“But their Pretend Play, $15.99, is just awesome,” he said.
Each Pretend Play pack is themed and includes everything you need to play make-believe as a school teacher, a veterinarian and other adult roles
Shashibo, $19.99, is a great little fidget tool that also acts as a puzzle. The toy is held together by rare earth magnets and makes more than 70 shapes.
“Retro stocking stuffers are just always fun,” Brad said. His favorite line is by House of Marbles, which includes little wooden games, planes and a little bit of everything in between.
World’s Smallest Toys, $6.99, is another great option to stick in a stocking. These toys are fully functional, miniature versions of larger well-known games, Brad said, for example, a Rubix Cube or Etch-a-sketch.
“We’ve been selling a lot of puzzle balls and cubes,” Brad said. One of his favorite brands is Gear Ball, $19.99-24.99, which offers a range of puzzles from beginner all the way up to advanced.
If you need a pre-Christmas surprise, Brad suggests the Tree Mendous ornament decorator, $23.99.
“You put an ornament in the tree and, as it spins, you put a marker on it and create all kinds of designs,” he said.
Smith’s Variety is at 45 Church St. in Mountain Brook’s Crestline Village. For more information, call 205-871-0841 or visit the store’s Facebook page.