Green Toy Stores: Shopping for Eco Friendly and Natural Wood Toys in New York City
We recently wrote about some wonderful places to Shop for Handmade Toys and Children's Items in New York City. We wanted to complement that list with some other great suggestions for buying natural and green toys. What's the difference? While some natural toys are indeed handmade, others come from eco-certified production facilities. Most important, all differ from commercially mass-produced, run-of-the-mill wooden toys in terms of quality, origin and construction from sustainable, safe, natural, non-synthetic materials.
For many parents natural toys allay safety worries, are environmentally friendly, promote fair trade or local business, remain durable and long lasting, offer aesthetic appeal, tactile/sensory enrichment and, invariably, are "open-ended" (there’s no "right" or "wrong" way to play with them) thereby nourishing a healthy imagination and longer attention span, so say the experts.
But, even if you're not looking exclusively for green toys, these wonderful toy stores are filled with interesting and unusual finds you certainly won't see at Toys R Us.
NYC GREEN TOYS STORE GUIDE:
ABC Home Store
888 Broadway, Manhattan
The second-floor children’s department boasts a fairly large and beautifully curated collection of natural toys from gnome homes and fairy silks to hand-knit critters and wee wooden kitchens. The collection is pleasantly punctuated with a few nice selections from Europe’s finer old-time toy purveyors like France’s Vilac or Germany’s Kathe Kruse. I’m especially fond of the off-beat animals made of oddball textiles and wool scraps.
Unfortunately, this store has closed.
This is a wonderfully whimsical store with many choices for curious kiddos despite its diminutive size. Standouts are the fantastic hand-crafted wooden figurines and castles I’ve not seen anywhere else as well as gorgeous, all-cotton handmade dolls with eyes (confession: I’m partial to eyes—can’t abide that Waldorf Pillsbury dough-boy look at all). Bigger lines offered, like Ostheimer (fabulous wooden figurines) and Fagus (super nifty wooden vehicles with functional parts), maintain their all-natural status and offer oodles of good play value.
32 North Moore, Manhattan
Playing Mantis is a natural toy heaven with extraordinary, unique selections from all over the world and back again (yup, even New York artisans are represented). Proprietress (and natural toy conjurer) Imelda McCain knows the provenance of every item in the store and often she’s forged her own special relationships with the craftswomen and men making these toys especially for her shop. Kids will delight in these play-worthy wonders crafted from sustainable woods or hand-woven wools, always honoring fair trade and community support in the originating country. Plus they’re easy on the eyes. Charming costumes, perplexing puzzles and many unusual large-scale pieces (giant barns to drool over—and I don’t mean the cows!).
VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS:
323 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn
This is a veritable gem of a store where every item is carefully selected and dearly displayed as if this were a child’s room. A tiny table is often set up with equally tiny, tempting play food, the Waldorf wooden figures in back are all sweetly arranged as if the story has just begun. Most of the toys here qualify as natural or organic with more standard fare (Plan, Haba) mixed in. Though emphasis is on quality, not quantity, you can still expect unique items like hand-knit stacking rings from Bolivia or a boffo bamboo airplane in groovy green.
Bump to Baby (Real Birth’s in-house shop)
Unfortunately, this store has closed.
You don’t have to be Darwin to enjoy the process of natural (toy) selection here. Popular offerings share shelf space with the crunchier stuff, but you’ll do fine with items like organic soft toys from local (Brooklyn) toymaker MiYim (aka Hosung), organic dolls like "Clean Air Kate" or an all-wood breakfast set featuring a wooden tray, eggs, bread, cheese, bacon, sausage, salt and pepper all for bargain price of $20. (You can spend more on the real thing hot off the griddle!).
Green Depot Baby
222 Bowery, Manhattan
Green Depot carries a relatively small selection, but all of its toys are all natural. Not bad for a place geared to sell green building products! If you’re buying paint for the nursery, stop by for recycled wool sock puppets by Cate & Levi, hand-crafted wooden rattles and even an all-natural Eco Kid Finger Paint kit for your wee Kandinsky’s.
85 Pineapple Walk, Brooklyn
Everyone considers this store the "go to" place for whatever you need kid-wise in the Heights—from nice clothing to essential baby gear and though I didn’t make it here myself (yet!), more than one mom gave props to their "very nice natural, all-wood European toys," and the "many unique and unusual play items you don’t see elsewhere." Such nice recommendations deserve a mention.
The storefront has closed, though MetroMinis still operates its baby carrier education and sales business online and at satellite locations.
Known city-wide as a mama’s mecca for baby-wearing, MetroMinis gets a nod for their nice natural toy selection, particularly for baby and toddler contingent. You’ll find hand-crafted teethers, rattles and egg shakers, play silks and some nice organic fruit and veggie sets.
178 North 9th Street, Brooklyn
Your tykes will enjoy the laid-back vibe while you poke around this super-sized space chock-a-block with super cool stuff for babies and kids alike. When it comes to natural toys, the more unique highlights include Anne-Claire's all-cotton crocheted toy "Petites," Bholu’s funky wool felt animals and some very rad recycled wooden rolling toys.
LOCAL BUT YA GOTTA BUY ONLINE
These super-sturdy, certified-green and simply great wooden toys are all made in New York. This Rifton-based toy-making "cooperative" has been around for more than half a century. All toys ship free and they are so solid they come with a 10-year warranty plus they replace parts whenever you need them—free. Check out their employee policy: "If a mother at Community Playthings has a baby to nurse, that’s her top priority, even if it means she gets less done at her desk." This company is awesome and so is its toys
Cool old guy carver (and bee-keeper and raiser of sheep) Gunther Keil creates amazing animal folk art toys in Trumansburg, N.Y., from trees he grows on his own property (all American hardwoods, oil finished). His push-toys and arks are exceptional. His prices are reasonable for hard-carved work and his toys make treasured keepsakes.
This Brooklyn-based online gift emporium has a ton of all-natural (and really nifty) toys and kid stuff like Wool-Osaurus Rex knitted dinosaurs, organic “Brothr & Sistur” dolls, and a natural stones building block kit (to name but a few). Their best natural toys are tucked in the "kids’ 3-5 years" category, so look there even if your child is older or younger. Badge of coolness: You can submit your own handmade stuff; if the store digs it it'll sell your creations on its site.
A final note: Some natural toys can be quite expensive but everywhere we’ve listed has offerings at many price points. You might consider a special natural toy a worth investment. Personally we’ve had cheap Melissa and Doug wooden toys chip, splinter or come apart on us the first day (grrrr!) whereas our occasional splurges on the "better stuff" have paid off with problem-free enjoyment under the typical assault of hearty toddler play.
This post originally published in January, 2010.