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It’s a tough job but someone has to take on the task of finding the world’s best toy stores. So Spot Cool Stuff assigned ourselves.
Here’s a look at our favorite shops for indulging your kids—and your inner child:
New York City
Wow! If you can’t have fun here you may not have a pulse. This 5th Avenue megastore was made famous in the movie Big when Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia danced on a giant floor piano keyboard. The keyboard is still there—and can be yours for the low price of US$250,000. Other fantastic features of the FAO Schwartz flagship store are a huge stuffed animal zoo, a doll adoption center and the FAO Schweetz candy shop.
Upon walking into the store, you’ll be greeted by a three-story clock tower singing “Welcome to Our World of Toys,” which will make immediately make you eternally glad that you don’t have to work here. But, in terms of a toy store to visit, there is no better on Planet Earth.
Toys ‘R’ Us
New York City
In general, Spot Cool Stuff is not a fan of the Toys ‘R’ Us chain. But even we have to admit: the Toys ‘R’ Us store in Times Square is cool. It is the largest toy store in the world. And by large, we mean massive. Inside the store is a working ferris wheel that’s 60 feet (18m) high. There’s also a two-story human-sized Barbie doll house, a giant LEGO T-Rex dinosaur (that makes loud roaring noises) and an interactive Thomas the Train set.
There are several Hamleys toy stores around the world but the best of them is on Regent Street in London. The seven floors here are densely packed with nearly every toy imaginable. The staff often dress up in costumes, but the best part is the hands-on toy demonstrations.
Multiple locations, especially Orlando & Berlin
There are nearly 50 LEGO retail establishments scattered across the planet, mostly in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. As a group, they form what is arguably the world’s coolest chain of toy stores. LEGO stores usually include hands-on play spaces, often display enormous LEGO structures and, best of all, always contain lots and lots of those famous Danish building blocks in various shapes and configurations.
Choosing our single favorite LEGO store proved impossible, so, after great thought, we settled upon two:
1) The Orlando, deep in the heart of Disneydom, is the largest LEGO store in the world. There’s a giant LEGO giraffe inside and a rotating display of LEGO creatures by the building’s entrance. The store also offers a cool augmented reality service—take a LEGO box off of the shelf, hold it in front of a projector and a hologram of the sort of structure you can build with the pieces in that box will magically appear! If we’d had this when we were 8 years old, our minds would have exploded.
2) The Berlin flagship store on Tauentzienstraße has the coolest design of any LEGO retail establishment. It also includes educational classes for kids ages 6 to 9 years old, as well as a class for the entire family.
Charles Ro Supply Company
Malden, Massachusetts USA
The largest toy train shop in the United States, and quite possibly the world, occupies a massive building in the suburbs of Boston meant to resemble an old railway station. The very best time to visit the Charles Ro Supply Company is on Saturdays between 10am and 4pm. That’s when the store runs the whole of its electric train network that’s spread out over three levels and six different tracks.
Doll Hospital 1830
Give me a plastic arm, stat!
There are a surprising number of establishments billing themselves as “Doll Hospitals.” There’s even a Doll Doctors’ Association. (And, for all we know, a network of doll lawyers chasing around
doll ambulances). But among the world’s doll hospitals, the oldest—and the coolest—is the one inconspicuously tucked away on a side street in the Portuguese capital. The only external sign of its existence is a small plaque which reads: Doll Hospital 1830. (1830 being the year it opened.) Inside is something akin to a Mayo Clinic for dolls. There’s an emergency room, several operating tables and shelves and drawers full of dolls and doll parts. Repairs cost anywhere from €4 for a basic procedure to more than €1,000 for a complicated surgery—unless, of course, you have doll health insurance.
Japan (especially Tokyo and Osaka)
Gashapon is not the name of a Japanese toy store; it is the word for a toy that comes from a vending machine. A typical gashapon would be a sticker book, or plastic action figure or Hello Kitty charm. Kids love collecting and trading gashapon. Yours truly once had a fun sake-filled night of playing poker using gashapon instead of chips. A gashapon store will contain at least one isle—and sometimes many isles—of vending machines each of which has a different toy for sale.
Gashapon is usually translated into English as “capsule toy.” In fact, the word is a Japanese onomatopoeia: “gacha” is the sound of the turning of a crank on a toy vending machine, “pon” is the sound of the toy capsule dropping into the receptacle. Nearly every large urban center in Japan has at least one gashapon store. The best areas to go looking for them is Tokyo’s Akihabara disctict and Nipponbashi in Osaka.
Lark Toys must be the best least-known toy store in the United States. This place is like a section of 1950′s Coney Island boardwalk transported to middle America. The prime attraction is the hand-carved (!) carousel. If that’s not enough to captivate your kids, try the 18-hole mini golf course (look for it by the Kool-Aid waterfall), the gourmet fudge and ice cream shop, the vintage toy museum, the huge children’s book selection, the llama petting zoo, the puppet shows, the trick mirrors or the selections of gag gifts.
The world’s biggest Barbie store, predictably, is pink. And it’s unpredictably high-design and cool-looking. The Shanghai store displays its countless large doll busts and non-existent hips throughout six floors traversed via a spiral staircase or an LED-lit escalator. The best part: the fourth floor cocktail lounge. Though don’t expect to find shelter from the Barbie overload in a beer—all of the drinks sold here are of the fruity variety and are served in pink glasses. No word yet on whether the world’s largest Ken store will be built next door.
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