Puzzles were the runaway hit of last spring’s pandemic lockdown, flying off shelves from coast to coast as families sought indoor diversion. But as the 2020 holiday season got into swing, children’s and hardware stores reported that shoppers toy preferences varied widely by retailer and demographic.
Board games and puzzles have remained the top-selling category at Center Hardware and Supply in San Francisco, Calif. John Paulson, manager at the 16,000-square-foot store, observed that games have continued to sell far better than they did before the spring lockdown. “We have a lot of families who shop here, and they’re all looking for things for the kids to do while they’re at home that don’t involve screens,” he noted.
At Ace Hardware in Las Vegas, Nev., kids gravitate toward pint size versions of the items their parents bought — from miniature tool kits and toy barbecues to scaled down lawn mowers and the like. “We notice the kids like miniature versions of the things that the grown-ups are doing,” observed Store Manager Jeffrey Kajiwara. Like many hardware stores, Ace in Las Vegas sets aside a relatively small area for children-specific merchandise — a display roughly four feet wide.
Pahrump Rentals and Hardware, in the Nevada town of the same name, is located in a retirement community, with a mostly adult clientele. “For those children who do come in we keep a supply of whirligig toys that they like,” said Manager Meghan Thomas. Professional quality art supplies, geared to all ages, also sell well for children, Thomas noted — especially when families are home during the pandemic.
It’s a largely adult scene at Mapamundi Kids in San Francisco, Calif., as well. Store Manager Sean Santos said the boutique is geared for sophisticated professionals shopping for the children in their lives — with quirky visual appeal and Instagram-ready wares to match.
“We have a very curated product line; we’re a very unique store,” said Santos, who moonlights as the drag queen Yves Saint Croissant and, in full costume, hosts readings for kids in the store. The socially conscious clientele “really responds to products that are made locally and items that are made in the U.S.A., not in China,” explained Santos. “They’re looking for inclusive books and dolls that reflect a variety of ethnicities. Many grown-ups grew up with dolls of a single color, and they want more for their own children.” Among the current best-sellers are the Holdie Folk figurines from Olli and Ella, and voice recorders from the Texas-based Brand New Noise.
Most children have been at home since March in California, so it’s no surprise that San Francisco, Calif.-based Aldea Baby and Home has done a brisk business in pastimes that foster children’s development — arts and crafts kits, musical instruments, puzzles and sensory stimulating toys. “Parents are looking for things to engage their young ones,” said Owner Johanna Bialkin. From dog toys to dress up costumes to toilet paper ornaments, many of the top sellers are items the whole family can enjoy.
Local children love collecting figurines from the Maileg Mice — a line that started by encouraging gentle play around bedtime ritual, and has lately expanded to include more kitchen items, reflecting the time children are spending at home. Aldea recently started carrying silicone playthings from the Montessori-inspired Fat Brain Toys line, and it has been a hit. “These are toys that babies can chew, lick, play within the bath or even at the beach,” noted Bialkin. Speaking of the beach: Bialkin has observed rising demand for items that are easy to transport or use anywhere; with school and jobs largely remote, families have been moving around.
So-called “flat” pianos, which teach kids keyboard basics, and pint-size guitars from the Loog brand are favorites among a clientele that has always favored musical instruments. And with more families enjoying recreation outdoors, Aldea is selling more scooters, wagons and other diversions geared for the backyard or the park.
To compensate for reduced foot traffic at the 7,000-square-foot, three-story emporium, Bialkin recently launched a corporate service, Aldea for Business. “We needed to pivot,” the retailer explained, adding that with 900 brands to draw from across baby, children’s and home products, the store is a natural for corporate gifting.
There’s no question this has been a hard year — but Bialkin has been heartened by the loyalty and support of neighborhood patrons and the San Francisco retail community. “We are all really there for each other,” she said.
Are Puzzles Still a Piece of the Profits Picture?
When much of America was locked down last spring, puzzles were suddenly the must-have item for families trapped at home with the kids — and according to many retailers, table and floor games are still a hit. “We sell puzzles every day. They’re our top seller,” said Johanna Bialkin, owner at Aldea Home and Baby in San Francisco, Calif.
“We have a good selection of puzzles, and they continue to be a really strong item,” agreed Sean Santos, store manager at Mapamundi Kids, also in San Francisco.
Board games and puzzles were always popular with customers at Center Hardware and Supply in San Francisco. But sales really picked up in March and April, said Store Manager John Paulson, “and they’re still flying out of here,” he said in December, 2020.