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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Barbie, Hot Wheels, Care Bears and other nostalgic favorites stay plentiful on toy shelves this year

 (Stephen Templeton/The Spokesman-Review)

One of Spokane’s most impressive collections of toys is in a hardware store. Specifically, on the second floor of the General Store & Ace Hardware at 2424 N. Division St. is a 4,000-square-foot area packed with toys.

The hardware store began offering toys about three years ago when the historic White Elephant closed.

“We constantly hear customer feedback about what they want to see,” said Tom Barany, part-owner of the store.

Since then, Toyland, as it is called, has grown to offer more toys every year.

“At first, there were some things that we didn’t have,” Barany said. “But now we have a thorough spread of toys.”

According to Barany, some of the store’s most popular items look similar to decades earlier. Legos, Pokémon, Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels are all big sellers.

“Pokémon is astoundingly popular right now,” he said. “I’d say it’s more popular now than when I was a kid, and it was pretty darn popular – it’s had a total resurgence.”

But old toys coming back to popularity is not just isolated to this hardware store. It’s a trend weaving throughout the toy industry.

Despite being introduced in the 1960s, sales of the Tonka Mighty Dump truck rose more than 250% year-over-year during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Washington Post.

In the same article, Jay Foreman, the CEO of Basic Fun!, said his company is selling more Care Bears than ever, since their introduction in the early 1980s.

Though old toys are doing well, more technologically advanced gadgets still garner attention, Barany said.

“Remote-controlled cars are always popular, but drones are big right now,” he said. “Usually any type of drones we get sell out quickly.”

But the blockbuster sellers are the classics. And major toy brands know it.

Fisher-Price has continued its strategy to emphasize nostalgia from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The company has released products like a toy boombox for infants, though they may have never seen a real one in their lifetime.

The company has also released a toy version of the Game Boy, a major pastime and cultural icon in the 1980s and 1990s.

This can be seen at Toyland, too.

Some of the toy store’s most popular sellers by quantity are part of the World’s Smallest collection.

These compact playthings are simply popular toys from years ago made much smaller.

Selling at just under $10, an entire wall at the hardware store is dedicated to them, offering mini Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Tonka trucks, Bop It, Jenga – even a miniature Pet Rock.

But the wall of miniature toys had one empty slot.

This was the space for the World’s Smallest Elf on the Shelf.

Rising in popularity in the early 2000s, this toy is meant to be hidden around the house for children to find each morning leading up to Christmas Day.

Perhaps parents are purchasing the toy to make this year’s search more challenging for their children.

But it seems children are not the only ones who will have trouble finding the Elf.

“We can’t keep the Elf on the Shelf,” Elaine Manning, hardware and toys manager and buyer said, laughing. “It just sells like crazy.”

Though they are little, these types of toys are big sellers.

Ever since the craze surrounding the Fidget Spinner in 2017, similar toys are highly sought after, according to Jenn Menzer, owner of Boo Radley’s in downtown Spokane.

“There’s, like, a lot of people who like the therapy of using little fidget toys, but now it’s gotten so much bigger than that,” Menzer said.

“They’re crazy popular,” she said. “Those and plush toys.”

Menzer and Barany both reported the persistent popularity of brands like Squishmallow and Jelly Cats.

The products are similar to the Beanie Babies products that were introduce in the 1980s. They include stuffed hippos, giraffes, chipmunks, hedgehogs and many more.

Customers at Boo Radley’s can find JellyCat-brand plush boba teas, spiders, clouds, Sheldon shrimp and more.

“They’re some of the most ridiculous stuff, like they have a plush scallop, even,” she said “They’re so silly, but I love them.”

Even so, plush animals have been seriously sought after.

In the 1990s, violent riots occurred at toy stores with limited supplies of Beanie Babies. Some fanatics spent a small fortune on the collectables.

Though neither Menzer nor Barany reported any such instances at their respective stores, they can be a great gift idea for people of all ages.

But if you’re trying to find the perfect toy for a child, maybe you don’t have to think outside the box. Remember you were a kid, too –think of toys you liked when you were a child.

You may just get them exactly what they wanted, and maybe even find your inner child again in the process.