Specialty toy stores see surge in sales

TRAVERSE CITY – Toy manufacturers have recalled 61 toys so far this year compared to a total of 40 last year. The recalls mean huge financial losses for large companies such as Mattel and Baby Einstein. But for area toy shops that specialize in organic toys, it means a boom in business.

"After the recall of Thomas the Train, sales for our wooden train set went way up," says Sheri Novak, owner of Hazelnut Kids. "We couldn't even keep the item in stock."

The Traverse City-based Internet toy company sells wooden and organic cotton toys for children and babies.

Green Island, an earth-friendly store in Traverse City, has also seen an increase in organic baby toy sales.

"Our sales are up 28 percent from last year," says owner Sean Burns. "Does this have to do with all the recalls? I don't know. But I do know that the organic cotton stuffed toys are very popular right now."

It's not only organic toys consumers want…many of them are also shopping specifically for 'Made in the USA' products. At Toy Harbor in Traverse City, the shop has two lists at the cash register-one featuring toys made in the U.S., the other featuring toys manufactured in other countries. "Many customers, especially grandparents, were coming in and asking where a toy was made," says manager Leslie Ansted. "So I put these lists out to help my customers and my employees."

"People are asking a lot more questions before they buy," says Children's World owner Karen Bobay. "Along with looking at the price tag, they also look to see where a toy was made and its ingredients."

At Green Island, the owners are stocking more wooden toys, and toys made in the U.S. or Europe.

While some consumers are shopping for only American-made toys, some parents are shying away from toy stores all together.

"I have told relatives, instead of buying Alex a toy this year, why don't you donate some money toward a music class for him," says Krista Nieto, mother of two.

Toy Harbor and Children's World both say because they are smaller specialty toy shops, they didn't carry a lot of the recently-recalled items. However, 'big box' stores such as Toys "R" Us have had to clear entire shelves following recalls.

In a recent e-newsletter, Toys "R" Us wrote that it will take back any recalled product, whether it was purchased at Toys "R" Us or not, even without a receipt.

"Our message is clear: there is simply no place for unsafe toys on our store shelves," wrote Gerald Storch, chairman and CEO of Toys "R" Us. "We believe that when a product is recalled, the most important thing is to get that product out of children's hands." BN