What’s New and Exciting in Toyland? Magic Beans in Boston!

Sheri and Eli Gurock, intrepid proprietors of Magic Beans, keep planting more seeds and making their toy store business grow. It started in 2004, with a single store in Coolidge Corner. Eight years and 5 stores later, their latest beanstalk has sprung up in The Shops at Prudential Center.

The new Magic Beans store in the Prudential Center quietly opened for business in November and made a splash in January with a grand-opening Kazoo Flash Mob – Skip to My Lou through the Pru with kazoos – led by the incomparable children’s songstress, Vanessa Trien. It was quite a celebration, complete with a visit from Elmo and giveaways galore. For those of us who missed it, we can have our own micro celebrations by taking our little ones to the new store to check out the selection of gear, gadgets, gifts and games.

What is the secret to the success of Magic Beans? It probably has a lot to do with their focus on customer service (think personal shopping, car seat installation, stroller matchmaking), a knowledgeable and passionate staff, unique and innovative store events, and a careful and thoughtful selection of toys and baby gear. On their website, they say this about the kinds of toys that can be found in their stores:

We sell a handpicked selection of toys for all ages, from a wide range of manufacturers. We believe that good toys come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Our customers represent a wide spectrum of parenting philosophies, and so do our products. We love that imagination doesn't run on batteries, but we also know that sometimes a couple of batteries can elevate a toy to a whole new level of fun. When we are evaluating toys, we look for things that inspire creative interactions - between kids and the toy, between kids and kids, between kids and adults. Or all of the above.

The Gurocks take fun seriously. Theirs may be a local business, but they seem to have their fingers on the pulse of the toy world. They keep watch on toy trends, spending time at trade shows like Toy Fair 2012. Held in NYC each February, the American International Toy Fair is the largest trade show in the Western Hemisphere.

So what does the owner/chief toy selector for one of the most popular toy stores in Boston see on the toy world horizon? After attending Toy Fair 2012, Sheri identified some of her favorites and wrote about them on the Magic Beans blog, Spilling the Beans. The blog post is aptly named “Best in Show” – Toy Fair coincided with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show – and Sheri talks about the best new toys in different categories for a range of age groups. A few highlights:

Best Eco-Friendly Toy: PlanWood. Plan Toys has figured out a way to use the sawdust generated from making their wooden toys to make a new wood composite material that is dishwasher-safe, less expensive and even more ecologically responsible to manufacture. Wow!

Best Musical Toy: Musical Touch Soundstation by Neurosmith. An interactive device that uses sensor plates to create music when one player touches the other player’s skin (they both have a finger on the sensor plates). I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these – it sounds incredibly fun.

Best Preschool Game: BBQ Blitz by Educational Insights. A fast-paced game that involves “making” burgers on a grill (actually the inside of the box). It’s perfect for kids who are at the pretend food-obsessed age, but looks like it would also be fun for a family with kids whose ages span a wide range.

For a complete run down on all of Sheri’s picks (with pics!), take a look at her blog post. For a more general discussion on top trends in toys, like new takes on wooden blocks, magnets and the integration of iPads and iPhones into toys, read this post by Dana.

In addition to the new store at the Pru and new toy trends making their way into the mix, Magic Beans has another exciting development: a brand-new outlet section in the Hingham store. Similar to IKEA’s “as-is” section, the outlet features great deals on overstocks, merchandise with damaged packaging, floor-model strollers, etc.

I recommend visiting one of the Magic Beans stores in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Hingham, or Wellesley soon for the latest and greatest in toys. In the meantime, for fun finds and food for thought, check out the Magic Beans magalog, “Surprises”. You just might be surprised at what you find inside!