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In economic hard times, nostalgic toys strike a chord

NEW YORK — Counting dollars this holiday season, Tom De Santes wants to avoid buying high-priced techno gadgets as gifts for his two sons.

Instead, he is going to buy the boys, ages 6 and 7, a classic from his own childhood: Lincoln Logs.

“I loved them as a kid and used to build huge log cabins,” remembers De Santes, 38, who lives outside Boston in Scituate, Mass., and is a marketing director for an education software company. With Lincoln Logs, “I like that my boys and I can create something together.”

Without a “must-have” toy fad this holiday season, and with parents facing a deteriorating economy, tried-and-true toys are being embraced by parents and toy makers alike — what one analyst calls a “back to the toy box” approach.

“Retro or nostalgia toys can be viewed as the comfort food of the toy industry and I do think folks naturally gravitate to what made them happy when they were young, or what is familiar to them,” said Anita Frazier, a toy analyst at NPD Group, a market research firm.

Ken Moe, general manager of, a Web site owned by Scholastic Corp. that offers classic toys like Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em Robots, Slinky and Colorforms, said sales so far this season indicate a rising interest in old favorites.

Though most sales will occur over the next few weeks, Moe said Junior TinkerToys, Lincoln Logs and toy instruments have been among the big sellers in the past few months.

“It’s instinctive in tough times to reach back to a happier, simpler time,” he said. “Parents remember how much they loved those toys, and want that same happiness for their children.”

Lauren Horsley, who has boys ages 1 and 5 and a 3-year-old girl, plans to buy TinkerToys, a Cabbage Patch Kid doll and classic board games Sorry! and Hungry Hungry Hippos this year. The 29-year-old from Salt Lake City said she finds value in the toys’ quality and universal appeal.

“We just bought our first house this fall, and with the economy so unstable we need to be as conservative as possible to ensure that we pay our bills,” she said. “A lot of pricey, faddish toys aren’t going to do our children much good if we don’t keep a roof over their heads.”

Hasbro Inc. has found success revitalizing names such as the 40-year-old Nerf brand and Transformers, which first hit the U.S. in the early ’80s and are selling well again after last year’s “Transformers” movie.

The company also debuted revamped versions of classic board games like Clue, Operation and Monopoly this year.

Jakks Pacific Inc. has brought back several classic brands this year, including a 25th-anniversary Cabbage Patch Kid doll that is a replica of the original version and a new Smurfs plush toy and DVD.