Where to Find the Hippest Toys in Tulsa
So it’s that time of year again. Time to Santa-up and buy toys for these spoiled kids. And for many of us, pressed for time and money, it’s easiest just to run into a Big Box and buy the flashy, splashy atrocities: the huge talking Disney princesses, the loud trucks, the “educational” tablets that talk to you. All of these will summon the requisite ooohs and ahhs Christmas morning, but then, I’ve found that the flashier the toy, the sooner it will be left discarded, lying in a garish plastic heap somewhere.
So where can parents and grandparents find something better these holidays? Well, fortunately Tulsa boasts several locally owned toy stores that offer a smorgasbord of playthings that are sturdy, fun, even educational – toys that will last, and toys that have been carefully edited by real-life store owners for their high play-ability value.
Tulsa Toy Depot
I first check out Tulsa Toy Depot, a new toy store that opened this year at 101st and Sheridan. It’s owned by Ryan McAdams; his family has lived in Tulsa for over 100 years, and in South Tulsa since 1985. Tulsa Toy Depot offers high-quality toys that are the exact opposite of pink plastic: Ryan works with several toy consultants who keep his store stocked with all the best brands. The toys are so unique and edgy I haven’t heard of any of them! I discover all sorts of intriguing tschotskes: Crayon Rocks that are easy for kids to hold; a blooming cactus that kids have to learn how to balance and build; and good old-fashioned puppets and Jack-in-the-Boxes, which my 5- and 3-year-old find hilarious.
As Ryan notes, “So many parents are willing to spend money on tutors and extracurricular activities for their kids. Why not spend a few more dollars on quality toys that teach and last?”
So many of the toys at Tulsa Toy Depot require interacting, creating and touching. And the entire inventory is purchased from companies worldwide that have high ethical standards as well. Pebble, for example, is a company which employs Bangladeshi women to crochet beautiful stuffed puppets. Tegu, a company based in Honduras, makes enchanting wooden magnetic blocks. But by far Ryan’s favorite toy for this Christmas is a lovely game-and-book combo called “The Christmas Star from Afar.” The game encourages children to go on a hunt for their Star — just like the Wise Men. Every day someone (OK, Mom) hides the star and the kids play hide-and-seek to locate the star. (Hopefully divine intervention prevents any fighting during the game!) Once they have found their star, they move all Three Wise Men to its location. On Christmas morning, the Three Wise Men reach their final destination — the manger. I buy one on the spot. What a fun – and meaningful – activity that embodies more of the true spirit of Christmas (as opposed to the ubiquitous elves on shelves – a fun pastime, but one ultimately devoid of any deeper meaning).
Tulsa Toy Depot also hosts weekly arts and crafts classes for the younger set. Paper bag puppets, monster crafts and chalk art are recent offerings. Every Thursday is storytime at 11 a.m. And, on Saturday, December 5, Santa will be visiting! After browsing the toys, you must pop next door to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Buy yourself six boozy truffles, buy the kids a gorgeous candy apple (hey! There’s fiber in there!) and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Learning Express Toys
Next, I visit the bright, big and happy Learning Express Toys, located in the new Vineyard on Memorial Shopping Center at 7891 E. 108th St. South. Here, you’ll find a few more familiar brands — there is a fantastic selection of Legos, and oodles of Melissa and Doug — but also a lot of innovative and uncommon toys. My crafty daughter would go ape over the 3D Plush Craft Kits; they are kits that include everything for a kid to make all kinds of adorable animal pillows with minimal intervention from a parent, which is critical for my craft-impaired self. There are some high quality bow-and-arrow sets actually invented by two brothers, ages 10 and 7: Two Bros Bows and Arrows. Fantastic for amateur archers — without the potential death!
Charlie Darrow, the owner of Learning Express Toys, notes that anything Star Wars will be really big this Christmas, She really likes Magformers, which are fun and versatile magnetic blocks that enable a kid to build all kinds of wild concoctions. Another toy actually invented by kids is the Dreamland Fairy House Kit. It includes magical fairy dust and paint that kids can use to design a little fairy house. The kit is complete with a book telling the story of the Dreamland Fairy who ran out of stories to share with its fairy friends – just darling! Another unique gift that is actually a gift from the child: books that kids write and illustrate on their own, such as “Grandpa is Magical,” “Grandma is a Superhero,” or “Amazing Mom.” These allow the children to fill in the pages with some prompts, and would earn you some serious babysitting favors if you gave them to your in-laws.
And then I hit the granddaddy of all the local toy stores, Kiddlestix, located at 38th and Harvard. Kiddlestix has been in Tulsa for almost 30 years, and was just sold by the original family, the Burdocks, to Chuck and Jana Doyle in 2015. The Doyles have built upon the Burdocks’ offerings, and have added a lot of new brands. Jana shows me their huge science kit area that not only offers science kits for the older kids over 8, but the younger ones too. Thames and Kosmos makes a wide variety of science kits, including an “Amusement Park Engineer Kit” for kids as young as 3, and a “Stepping Into Science” Kit for kids as young as 5. The kits for older kids are intriguing: wouldn’t it be great to get your older kids off their electronics to tinker around with the Telescope Kit or the Nanotechnology Kit?
Jana also loves Magnatiles; they are magnetic tiles that lend themselves to all sorts of imaginative concoctions. Bonus: they look ethereal against sunlit windows — like creations from Leprechauns! Kiddlestix also has a great assortment of musical toys — a grand piano, drum set and more. And for the little girlies? (Or their grandmas!) A charming traditional wooden dollhouse by Le Toy Van. Kiddlestix offers this dollhouse and furniture at a discount this holiday season.
As Jana notes, it’s the “open-ended” toys that will last the longest and promote the most interaction. Another great idea: Jana is fond of a beautiful line of puppets (they are so realistic looking). Pair a couple of these puppets with a puppet theater that hangs down from a doorway and voila! hours of entertainment that doesn’t take up a ton of space or require a huge clean up. They also offer Playmobil, Corolle Dolls, Ravensburger puzzles and, my personal favorite, Usborne books. Usually you have to order these delightful books through a consultant, and I’m too lazy to do that, so it’s a treat to have them right here.
And while you’re here, you should sneak next door to Sweet Tooth Candy and Gifts. Here, you will find a veritable treasure chest of candy for kiddies — Star Wars candy dispensers, Frozen candy wands, BeanBoozled jelly beans (gross jelly beans mixed in with good ones – a great game!) and Candy Coal for naughty kids! And the truffles are worth a bit of extra holiday flab – the Eggnog one makes me swoon, it is so delicious. Chocolate Advent calendars are another kiddie thrill.
It’s also worth noting that Barnes & Noble at 41st and Yale is a fabulous resource for the holidays. Remember good old-fashioned books? How good they feel in your hands? Well, they have tons of books for kids so gorgeous that you’ll tear up a bit. They also have plenty of toys too – Playmobil, Legos and all sorts of high quality, educational nuggets. The store recently hosted its first “Makerfaire,” where kids learned about exciting new technology like 3D printers, drones, robots, coding and programming from technology gurus – and then got to experiment on their own! Storytime is every Tuesday, and there’s always a party or two in the works – a Star Wars party is planned for this month, so check the website.
With all those great venues, you no longer have an excuse to buy a talking Dora and Perrito at Tarzhay. Get ready! Get set! Shop! And have fun playing with all the toys!