lifestyle - Toy Stores
Written by Karen Martin
We travel the globe to explore the world’s best toy stores, from the flagship stores of time-honoured brands that have become iconic, to the huge toy stores that are destinations in themselves.
Over 250 years old, Hamleys in London is a British institution, and its flagship store in Regent Street is a spectacle, with seven floors of toys and games. The theatre of the store comes alive from the entrance as you are welcomed in from the street, and inside you are met with the squeaking, bleeping, whizzing, and chiming of toys all around and overhead. Time-honoured toys jostle for space amongst the latest gadgets and trends, and toys are often out of their boxes – brought to life by staff who play all day and encourage children to play along.
The largest Toys“R”Us store, in Times Square, New York, boasts over 10,000 sq. m of space. Toys, trains, board games, video games, and much more fill the shelves at this enormous emporium, with dedicated areas for interactive play, and boutiques displaying the hottest toys and electronics; but the flagship store is also home to a 60ft-high Ferris wheel; a two-storey, life-size Barbie doll’s house; and a 6m-tall animatronic T-Rex from Jurassic Park.
Also in New York, the FAO Schwarz flagship store, the oldest toy store in the USA, attracts millions of visitors annually. The only one of its kind, it has been offering a vast array of playthings, including a range of toys unique to the store, for more than 150 years. Created to be a magical toy emporium that would ‘bring toys to life’, every trip to FAO Schwarz begins with a greeting from the store’s real-life Toy Soldiers, ushering eager customers inside. Filled with every toy imaginable, from the traditional to the latest craze, kids and kids-at-heart also come here to relive an iconic scene from the movie BIG on the oversized piano in the Grand Hall.
Japan’s biggest toy store is Kiddy Land, and its flagship store, located in Harajuku, Tokyo, immerses its visitors in Japan’s kawaii (cute) culture. The five-storey building is virtually a theme park of character goods, with speciality shops and corners dedicated to different characters. These include: Snoopy Town Shop Harajuku, carrying all the familiar faces from the cartoon Peanuts; PrismStone, an interpretation of the shop in the anime Pretty Rhythm: Dear My Future; Toys Wonderland, with action figures, LEGO and more; Rilakkuma Store Harajuku, featuring the popular cuddly bear character; and Hello Kitty Store Harajuku, featuring one of Japan’s iconic characters and including limited-edition items that can only be found at the Harajuku store.
Denmark is the home of LEGO, and the flagship store in the centre of Copenhagen features exclusive and difficult-to-find LEGO sets, as well as a full selection of classic LEGO products and merchandise. The Pick-A-Brick Wall showcases LEGO bricks and elements in a variety of shapes and colours, and the Living Room is an interactive play area in the centre of the store, which gives you and your kids a chance to build and create with LEGO products, view out-of-the-box displays, or just take a break from shopping. LEGO model displays, company history, and fun facts are dotted around the store.
The first official Barbie Store, dedicated solely to all things Barbie, opened in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires in 2007 and has since been replicated around the world. The pink paradise boasts 650 sq. m of Barbie clothes, Barbie jewellery, Barbie accessories, and of course the dolls themselves. Parents can relax in the Barbie Tea House while their children browse, and there is also a beauty salon offering everything from manicures to make-up demonstrations and Barbie-inspired hairstyles. Casa Barbie at the back of the store hosts children’s birthday parties.
Back in London, Europe’s largest Disney Store on Oxford Street celebrates toys and a love for London with over 760 sq. m of toys, games, and clothes featuring Disney’s iconic characters. Learn about Disney’s connection to London with a map display that pinpoints movie locations – Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, and St James’s Park – from Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Cars 2, and 101 Dalmatians. Another standout feature is the 8.5m-high Princess Castle with an animated clock, where princesses make appearances in windows and Tinkerbell flies across the walls throughout the day. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck in Palace Guard uniforms guard the store, and many other magical things happen inside.
One thing is for certain: whichever of these stores you visit with children in tow, you’re unlikely to leave empty-handed.
In the heart of London’s Mayfair, the luxury 5-star Brown’s Hotel is within strolling distance of the shops of Regent Street, Bond Street, and Oxford Street, including Hamleys and the Disney Store. It also sits on the doorstep of the stunning green spaces of Green Park and Hyde Park. The hotel is ideal for families, with its Five-Star Kids’ programme: each child receives an age-appropriate gift in their room on arrival, from a personalised copy of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling – which was written in one of the hotel’s luxurious suites – to teenage glossy magazines. Little ones also get their own ‘Brown’s bear’ placed on their pillow during the evening service, and homemade cookies and milk are left by their bedsides. Children are also provided with their own dressing gowns and slippers – perfect for curling up and watching the wide choice of kids’ movies and DVDs while choosing from their own room service menu.