Educational Toys Stores in Chanhassen and Eden Prairie
After decades of losing out to big-box chain stores, the toy store is making a comeback. But some of this new wave don’t even call themselves toy stores.
Instead, when businesses, such as ABC & Toy Zone in Chanhassen, Marbles: The Brain Store in Eden Prairie and Smarty Pants Kids in Eden Prairie talk about their products, they tend to use educational and development terms like critical thinking, visual perception and problem solving.
The new toy stores might go to far-off places such as Finland or look to Minnesota-based companies to find innovative products. At some stores, no batteries or electronics are allowed. For others, demonstrated learning value is a must. But all agree on one thing: It’s got to be fun to use.
And while their product lines vary, all three stores agree that what sets them apart from the big-box stores is the knowledge and experience that their staff have selecting, using and explaining how their products work.
Founded 16 years ago by Rochester natives Steve and Rene Nordhus, ABC & Toy Zone expanded into the Twin Cities seven years ago and now has three metro-area stores, including their Chanhassen location, which opened in April 2010.
The stores carry a mixture of toys and materials for parents and for educators, Steve Nordhus says. Aimed at kids 9 and under, ABC & Toy Zone’s merchandise includes very few items that require batteries or electricity, Nordhus says.
Nordhus has one other goal when he looks for items to sell in his store: “Always buy local if you can. It’s so much better when the dollars you spend stay in the state or the region and help someone else who’s going to invest in the local economy,” he says.
Every ABC & Toy Zone store does crafts instruction and workshops for kids on Saturdays and features many arts and crafts supplies along with their educational items and toys, Nordhus said.
● Groovy Girls dolls ($20) from Minneapolis-based toymaker Manhattan Toys.
● Quirkle, Q-bitz, Lab Mice and other games ($17.95–$24.95) from Roseville-based MindWare.
● Doodle Dice game ($10.99) from Minneapolis-based Jax.
820 W. 78th St., Chanhassen; 952.474.4366
Starting as a kiosk in a Chicago mall, Marbles has now turned into a rapidly growing 18-store empire of brainpower-enhancing fun that includes three Twin Cities locations, including an Eden Prairie store that opened in November 2010.
Marbles takes its title seriously, local store manger Julie Kelly says. “We don’t think of ourselves as a toy store or a game store. We are a brain store,” she says. “Everything in our store is designed to strengthen and stimulate the brain.
The store appeals to older kids and families, but also adults looking to give their brain a workout, she says. Marbles staff regularly visit libraries, senior centers and schools to demonstrate products and talk about how creative play can help build and retain memory, visual perception, critical thinking, physical coordination and more.
● Quarto! ($34.99) from French board game maker Gigamic.
● Molkky ($59.99), an outdoor lawn bowling game from Finland.
● Marbles’ MindSpring Software ($99.95) for brain fitness.
Eden Prairie Center, 8251 Flying Cloud Drive, Eden Prairie; 952.943.0779
Smarty Pants Kids is a child-centered experience, according to owner Makya Vandiver-Hawkins. Founded in September 2010, the Eden Prairie store carries more than 2,200 products, all hand-selected and organized into eleven different sections of the store, each focused on promoting different types of intelligence, she says.
The store features an area devoted to environmentally conscious products and another section devoted to “Made in America” items.
There’s also a kids corner where children can try out the toys, says Vandiver-Hawkins, who has a background in early childhood education. “You only have one chance to be a kid,” she says. “Each child is unique and deserves individual attention.”
A casual visitor is likely to see free public activities going on, such as game nights, craft days, music time and more, Vandiver-Hawkins says.
● Zoob building toys ($5.99–$24.99) by Infinitoy.
● Spot It, an impulse control game ($12.99).
● Artisands art kits ($14.95) from Wisconsin-based Pacer.
966 Prairie Center Drive, Eden Prairie; 952.974.8274
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