A wander around a toy store can be the perfect excursion to explore both a great neighbourhood and your inner child. With the advent of online shopping and big box discount stores offering monster deals, it can be easy to forget about the little guys. There is something almost magical about traditional toy stores that are known for curating amazing toys. Boutiques cater to individuals and interests, acting as a cornerstone in the transformation of a neighbourhood into a community—just ask your local Business Improvement Association (BIA).
One of the best things about the City of Toronto is the diversity and breadth in its neighbourhoods. The same could be said of the most popular toy stores scattered throughout the city, each having personalities of their own, truly adding oomph to their corresponding locations. Each inspire visitors with a focus on unique play, experience, learning, and unmatched customer service, all of which make them our regular favourites.
The Little Big Guy – Mastermind Toys
GTA Locations: Aurora, Brampton, Burlington, Etobiocke, Markham, Milton, Mississauga – Hurontario, Mississauga – Erin Mills, Newmarket, Oakville, North Oshawa, Pickering, Richmond Hill, Scarborough (Outlet), Bayview Village, Toronto – The Beach, Toronto – Mount Pleasant, Toronto – North, Vaughan
Mastermind Toys is a national chain, originally established in Toronto, and has five stores within the megacity. Holding the title of Canada’s largest specialty toy and children’s book retailer, it has locations serving areas of The Kingsway, Bayview Village, Yonge and Eglinton, The Beach, and North Toronto. With both online and in-store shopping available, Mastermind offers a vast selection of 10,000 fun and educational toys and books for children of all ages, from birth to young adult, to kid at heart.
This Canadian company services the needs of both local Torontonians and tourists, with neighbourhood stores carrying Canada and Toronto centric products including a Toronto Cityscape 4D puzzle, Metal Earth CN Tower 3D puzzle, and Good Night Toronto and Toronto ABC board books.
Ryan Carr, head of purchasing at Mastermind Toys, continues to see high demand for Lego, Paw Patrol, and Star Wars products. He expects the next toy trend for spring to be the Space Scooter. His current personal favourite product is Magna Tiles, available for purchase online and at Mastermind Toy locations across the city.
Mastermind boasts the secret to keeping customers returning again and again is the combination of an ample selection of the very best toys and books, a fun environment, friendly and knowledgeable staff who are passionate about toys, and, the icing on the cake, complimentary gift wrapping, which recognizes how important time is for busy customers.
West End Gem – Scooter Girl Toys
While owner Tere Oullette and store manager Megan Holtz both have their fingers on the pulse of the toy market, both feel that integrating feedback and taking product suggestions from staff and customers is key to the unique stock offered at Scooter Girl Toys.
Located in the heart of Toronto’s west end, Roncesvalles Village, this shop carries a world of fun beyond Scooters. Customers rave that Scooter Girls Toys is ahead of the curve, selling products that no one else is ordering. Megan shared that both she and owner Tere have artistic backgrounds and strong opinions on the aesthetics of toys, without being too precious about it. They frequently go down internet rabbit holes to track down new and cool toys. The pair are particularly fond of toys from French brands Djeco and Janod.
Scooter Girl also aims to support local talent and all things Canadiana. The store carries Canadian apparel and local artists including Wendy Tancock’s streetcar and canoe t-shirts and onesies, Little Bellwoods’ stuffies, British artist Julia Gash’s Toronto mini tote bags, and award winning books by Toronto locals Willow Dawson, Annika Dunklee, and Claudia Davila (Claudia is also Scooter Girl’s graphic designer). The shop carries some awesome games, like Ukloo and Game of Things, all created by Torontonians.
Scooter Girl doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about trends, because it’s almost opposing their mission of providing great toys with long-lasting play value. Megan mentions hearing the buzzword tinkering with toys a lot, with the very nature of tinkering being messing around while building. She is a big advocate of the many cool toys out there that encourage free-form building experimentation like Straws and Connectors, Tegu, and Geomags to help get people out of their Lego rut.
Scooter Girl Toys keeps an active online catalogue on their site, and updates their Facebook page regularly to keep customers in the know about their newest items and promotions. You can visit them in person at 187 Roncesvalles.
East End Literal “Treasure”, Treasure Island Toys
Treasure Island Toys prides itself on their customer and community based approach to business. They offer loyalty programs and complimentary gift wrapping, and host many in-store activities and events. Putting their practice as parents into the store, owners Lori Parker and Katie MacKinnon use their own knowledge of children’s developmental needs by age to supply toys that are both popular on the playground, and will also work well at home. Treasure Island Toys hosts frequent craft days, book readings, and product demonstrations.
Supporting Canada and Toronto, the shop carries Toronto themed books and puzzles. Treasure Island also carries locally invented, innovative products from Sandblox and Mobi.
With the exception of the recent burst of popularity in drone toys, both Lori and Katie have seen a shift in parents moving away from electronics, trending towards purchases of board games, puzzles, and crafts. Crafting supplies and tween products including microbead pillows, manicure sets, and funky watches did really well in 2015 and continue their reign of popularity in 2016. Katie’s current favourite products are the unique and beautiful dolls created by Moulin Roty, whereas Lori enjoys the excellent quality and wide selection available from Djeco Art Kits.
Visit 581 Danforth Avenue in person to see the “Toy Ahoy” pirate ship, as well as play stations where children are encouraged to dive into play or check out the website for online ordering by age, brand, or category.
Meet the photographer: BEA LABIKOVA
Bea is a Toronto based musician, photographer, teacher and a multidisciplinary visual artist. Growing up surrounded by her father’s antique camera collection, Bea was naturally inclined towards photography since an early age. She loves taking portraits of unique faces and always tries to capture the colours of the world around us. Her main areas of interest are documentary, performance and travel photography.