Koch On Film

By Alison Gregor

Volume 73, Number 31 | December 3 – 9, 2003


Battery Park City Mom knows what kids like

While many of us flock to suburban malls or uptown to shop for the holidays, we may overlook some fine shops right here in our neighborhood. With many of our local retailers continuing to struggle in the wake of 9/11, we have decided to spotlight some of them this holiday season. This article is the second of a series that will run through December.

A rather unexpected force is gathering steam these days in TriBeCa: neighborhood Moms.

In the past decade, among other things, Moms have organized to protest construction of a hulking commodities exchange and request a bubble park for their children. And because most still would not consider the neighborhood to be all that kid-friendly, one mother has taken unilateral action. She has opened a toy store.

It’s hard to miss Boomerang Toys at 173 West Broadway at Worth Street with its large banner sporting a red wagon. The store draws in parents from all parts of lower Manhattan.

“I work all the way down in the Seaport,” said David Seda, visiting the store recently to purchase collectible toys for his 10-year-old daughter. “I drive by everyday to go home to New Jersey (and) this is it,” said Seda, referring to the fact that it’s the only full-fledged toy store he’s come across.

Karen Barwick, co-owner of Boomerang Toys along with her husband, John, realized just how limited resources in Tribeca are for children about a year ago as she scrambled to find a gift for her son’s friend, who was having a birthday party in the neighborhood.

Seeking toys, she ended up traveling quite a ways by Manhattan standards, arriving in Union Square – and she wasn’t alone.

“Two other families came up to us at the birthday party and said, ‘Oh, we saw you at Toys “R” Us in Union Square. We were up there getting a present,’” Barwick explained.

The offhand comments were an epiphany to Barwick, who had worked in the music industry for a decade before being laid off in July 2002. By November, she had converted her visionary moment into a new job.

“I realized how many kids were down here, and how few services and resources existed for kids,” said Barwick, who lives in Battery Park City. “A toy store just seemed like a good idea.”

It also was a way for her to work but still be close to her young sons, who go to Buckle My Shoe and PS 89. Barwick’s philosophy is a simple one: Offer the toys that her sons, Liam and Felix, aged 6 and 2, actually play with along with those toys that she considers exceptional. And if ever the twain shall meet, so much the better.

Along with that, she said she wants to provide a place where neighborhood children can enjoy themselves while their parents have time to shop. Thus, Boomerang Toys has a complete Brio Wooden Railway System table assembled for kids, and there is frequently a play kitchen or a dollhouse erected, among other toys.

Parents often have trouble coaxing their children to leave the store. Barwick said the store experiences a couple of “melt-downs” a day.

“They’re very helpful here,” laughed a pregnant Pam Sprayregen, who was shopping for a gift for the friend of her 3-year-old daughter, Alexa Weissman. “If I bring her, I have more time than I think. They let the kids play, and try out the toys – maybe it’s on purpose!”

Zoya Siddiqui, whose son is almost 2, said she recently began shopping in the store because it’s about the only one in Tribeca, and the toys are educational.

“They have a lot of activity-oriented toys, which is great,” said Siddiqui, as she searched for a toy for her young son’s female friend.

She consulted Barwick for final approval of the toy ensemble she’d chosen: a rag doll in tangerine and hot pink with long striped stockings accompanied by a set of clothes and a fabric motor scooter.

Barwick suggested that, though 2-year-old girls love dolls, the child might have difficulty changing it clothing, but if placed on the motor scooter it would engage her. Siddiqui murmured her approval and voiced her appreciation at the options provide by Boomerang Toys.

“The selection here is not mainstream, for the most part,” she said. “They have a lot of European toys. I think I’m going to be a very frequent customer.”

Barwick admits to being partial to toys made of durable substances, like wood, and those made by long-standing companies, a surprising number of which are located in Germany. She can cite a long list of favorite German manufacturers: Playmobil, Bruder, Schleich, Ravensburger, Haba and Lego (with a new toy for girls called Clikits). Her toys range from those suitable for infants to those appealing to children entering their early teens.

She stressed that Boomerang Toys is not really a toy boutique, but an affordable toy store for parents who live or work in the neighborhood or lower Manhattan. There are items ranging from $5 to $305 in the store. The store also provides gift-wrapping, a birthday registry for children, and keeps track of neighborhood birthday parties, so parents don’t buy duplicate gifts.

Boomerang also stocks the latest toy fads, such as Mighty Beanz and Magz-X, along with tried-and-true favorites like Mad Libs, which are popular with both children and their parents.

Barwick said the past year has been a struggle, with a sluggish U.S. economy compounding economic difficulties in Tribeca, which was hit hard by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I’ve talked to merchants here who’ve said this is one of the worst years ever, even worse than the year after 9-11,” she said. “I hope that’s true. We’re staying afloat, and if I can stay afloat in a year that’s been bad, it can only get better.”

Barwick said that while the hours are long, she is in her element.

“There are so many kids I recognize here now,” she said. “I feel like I have a real neighborhood.”