Imagination Havens in Toronto
By : Lisa MacColl
Photos J. Kevin Foltz
Do you like quirky and original stores? Then these Toronto shops are just the place for you. Packed with toys, books and art, these hidden gems will bring out the kid in all of us. Be warned, though, these stores will eat up serious shopping time.
Nestled in the fashionable Yorkville area of Toronto, a short walk from the Yonge and Bloor subway station, Kidding Awound is a tiny store full of unusual toys, gag gifts and knickknacks that will suit the lighthearted joker on your shopping list. This fun locale features a large selection of windup toys and antique toys for the serious collector. There's also a variety of finger puppets featuring "unemployed philosophers" Kant, Plato, Hegel and Nietzsche, or "magnetic personalities" such as Che Guevara, Jesus, Einstein and Freud. Kidding Awound also sports an impressive collection of T-shirts, board games and novelty items such as kaleidoscopes and light-up pens. The store is a popular stop for celebrities during the Toronto International Film Festival, and has been visited by Pierce Brosnan, Clive Owen, Thandie Newton and Simon Cowell, among others. Owner Kevin Park advises that the shop is stocked by "going to toy stores and choosing the most fun and unique items available." Be sure to pack your sense of humor when you visit. This is not a location for the serious and dour.
Located in an old house a short walk from the Eglinton subway station, Mabel's Fables is a children's bookstore for those who love books. Every square inch is crammed with books of every subject, price range and description, and first-time visitors are given a tour of the store by one of the friendly staff. The books are grouped by age range, and then subdivided by fiction and nonfiction, and then by subject matter. Mabel's has an impressive collection of French and Spanish language books. The staff knows their stuff and is able to make recommendations based on a child's interests or reading level. According to owner Eleanor LeFave, books are evaluated by several staff for storyline, the writer's abilities, bibliography, reader's age level, enjoyment level and "content that customers or their children may or may not choose to embrace."
The bookstore partners with the Toronto Public Library to host author events, with a preference and emphasis on Canadian authors and illustrators. LeFave's philosophy is simple: "We try to read many of the new books in our store. It helps with our relationships with our customers: they trust and ask for our suggestions and guidance. We know that time and money is a concern to most book buyers. How do you begin to choose from the millions of titles out there, especially on the Internet? Our customers want to be guided to books their kids will not only read but remember for a lifetime." Make sure you meet Mabel. She'll likely be sitting in her favorite spot on the counter, waiting to greet you, unless she's having her catnap. She is a cat, after all.
Magic Pony Contemporary Artshop and Gallery
The Magic Pony is not your run-of-the-mill toy store. They specialize in designer toys from Canadian and international creators. What's a designer toy? Although the staff at Magic Pony will be happy to explain it to you, it's essentially a toy that's created by an artist, often with a background in graphic design, and usually fabricated from ABS plastic and vinyl, wood, metal or plush. They're produced in a limited series and the series can be produced by one artist or a variety of artists. Often, the series are produced in a "blind box" fashion, meaning that the purchaser is guaranteed a piece in the series, but has no idea which piece it is. Staff at the Magic Pony described it as a "Kinder Eggs for collectors" approach. Many of the designer toys come in a "do-it-yourself" state to allow the purchaser to custom paint or decorate. Series include designer miniature chairs, Uglydoll, Munnyworld, Barbapappa and Kidrobot, among others. There's also a good selection of carefully chosen books, T-shirts and stationery. The location includes a curated gallery at the back of the store to showcase local contemporary artists and a larger gallery, the Narwhal Art Projects a few doors down at 680 Queen St. West.
Oink Oink, located a short distance from the Eglinton subway station in midtown Toronto, knows its clientele… and their parents. Children are encouraged to be children, with lots of play stations throughout the store. Oink Oink is visually appealing and staffed by knowledgeable people who offer assistance, but let the clients have time to browse through the store. Toys are arranged by type, making it very easy to find a particular item. The store is full of tried-and-true toys that stand the test of time-arts and crafts supplies, building materials and fantasy figures. Shopping for a little girl on your list? Check out the jewelry boxes, beads and dolls. A little boy will love the selection of cars, trucks and the huge assortment of Lego. Oink Oink also features an impressive selection of items for babies, including diaper bags, clothing, board books and stuffed animals.
Where to Stay
The Delta Chelsea in downtown Toronto is an ideal place to stay while in Toronto. Centrally located, it provides easy access to Torontoâ€™s theater district, shopping and sporting events. For business travel, amenities such as high-speed Internet, voice mail and a work desk ensure that your stay will be productive. Delta Signature rooms include access to the Signature Lounge, which offers daily breakfast, wireless Internet and evening hors dâ€™oeuvres. The Delta Chelsea is family friendly, offering such amenities as a swimming pool, free accommodations for children under 17 traveling with a parent or guardian, and children under 6 eat free. Playpens, high chairs and cribs are also available.
How To Get There: American Airlines and American Eagle provide service to Toronto.
Book your trip today! Visit www.aa.com, call American/American Eagle reservations at 1-800-433-7300, or call your travel agent for more information.