Save our toy shops!

Community Index, September 2014

So which was better: the anticipation or the reality? Going into the toyshop as a child with a bit of birthday money, able to choose whatever you wanted, was wonderful. Think back and you’re probably smiling. Local toyshops are special places and we all remember those we knew and loved. So where can today’s children go for that same thrill of excitement and possibility?

In the last year or so, Chorlton has lost Monkey Puzzle and Busy Bee Toys, while shops have also closed in Wilmslow, Bramhall, Poynton and Altrincham. South Manchester is down to its last two independents: Go Great in Burnage and Giddy Goat in Didsbury.

Chorlton families will remember Amanda Alexander as co-owner of Monkey Puzzle. She left there two years ago to set up on her own at Giddy Goat. Selling toys is a serious business though: she faces stiff competition from supermarkets, bargain stores and huge online retailers.

Looking around, it’s obvious how Giddy Goat and other small toyshops are different from the pile-it-high sector: toys here are chosen by people who care. Dolls and teddy bears picnic in the window, there are play tables with trains, craft kits, colourful books and must-haves for even the tiniest babies. The pocket money section is bustling with children spoilt for choice and parents assembling party bags.

“When I buy stock, I think of children opening presents at parties. I don’t want parents’ hearts sinking as they watch them open yet another piece of plastic tat. I stock toys I’d be happy to give as gifts, that I know children will love.”

So what’s on this year’s Christmas list? “Dolls from Frozen in particular, but also the classics: Lego, anything with wheels, dinosaurs – and you can never have too many loom bands.”

Amanda chats with every child in the shop: she tells a small boy that the mean-looking knight he’s just bought enjoys spiders on toast. His eyes shine.

Shopping locally for toys is especially important: independent toyshops bring colour and fun to our high streets, and give happy memories to our children. Anonymous warehouses, brown boxes and shopping trolleys can’t do that and won’t even try. If we let the giants win the game, we’ll all be the losers in the end.