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How parents are holiday shopping in a post-Toys R Us world

Mom-and-pop shops are drawing in customers with wide, unique selections and strong customer service.

Louise Simon, owner of the Toy Space in

Louise Simon, owner of the Toy Space in Park Slope, stocks her shelves for the holidays. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

There’s nothing quite like shopping for toys during the holiday season.

Kids start making their lists early. Parents scramble to find that must-have item before it sells out. Rows of colorful stuffed animals, dolls and plastic play goods line store windows and shelves.

This year, however, is different. Industry juggernaut Toys R Us is gone, felled by crippling debt and the popularity of online commerce.

That’s a huge loss for kids of all ages who love to gape at a dazzling array of toys. (Picture Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” with his nose against the glass, staring at that Red Ryder BB gun.)

New Yorkers still have lots of options when toy shopping. Target, which has rapidly expanded its footprint across the city, is also beefing up its inventory. Mom-and-pop toy stores, known for unique and specially curated items, are adding more trendy gifts to lure in customers used to the offerings at Toys R Us.

“I never really felt like I competed with Toys R Us; we are more of a community store,” said Louise Simon, the owner of Toy Space in Park Slope. “Now, for the first time, I am carrying some mass market items like Shopkins and Cabbage Patch Kids dolls.”

Simon focuses on well-designed and classic toys. She said many parents are eager to share the toys with their children that they enjoyed during their youth.

But now she also wants to offer items customers picked up at Toys R Us so they don’t turn to online retailers.

“That’s what I really don’t want them to do,” she said.

Cindy Fang of Brooklyn said she sometimes prefers shopping in stores to buying toys online because her 4-year-old grandson loves the experience.

“He can touch, he can play around,” said Fang, 60, who recently visited Barnes & Noble and saw her grandson settle down on the floor with a whole selection of books.

Experts said a variety of retailers are hoping to cash in on the first holiday season without Toys R Us.

“Department stores, food and drugstores, electronic video game stores, the discounters, the dollar stores, even the mom-and-pop shops should pick up a little bit,” Juli Lennett, the NPD Group’s senior vice president and industry adviser for toys, told The Washington Post. “Everybody’s going to get a piece of the pie.”

Ayashaii Vernon of Crown Heights said she is heading to Target this season to shop.

“That’s probably where I’d go for toys because Toys R Us is gone, it’s so sad,” said Vernon, 20. “I don’t see any local toy shops. They’re scarce, they’re missing. It’s more convenient to find a local coffee shop than toy store.”

Vernon said she is not a fan of online shopping.

“I think our generation is going to find it will trouble them later on,” she said.

Mark Schwartz of Brooklyn Heights said he plans to shop both online and in stores.

“We'll do some shopping online,” said Schwartz, 39.

“If it’s for somebody else and we know they might want to return it, then we’ll [shop] in stores … Making sure the person can return it is a top priority."

Schwartz said he can appreciate that smaller toys stores have a different kind of inventory than the larger retailers.

"If it’s reasonably convenient, I do try to put some effort into [going] into a locally owned store," he added. "Even sometimes when I try to find something I want at a little, local store they don’t have it.”

Ezra Ishayik, owner of Mary Arnold Toys, an Upper East Side institution, said his store offers a wide selection and customer service that few can match.

“We have over 95 percent repeat customers,” said Ishayik, who operates the store with his daughter, Judy.

Former customers who have moved to Florida and other states still call and order toys for friends and relatives who live in New York City.

“We try to carry a little bit of everything,” Judy Ishayik said. “The kids are so smart these days, we always have to bring something new to challenge them.”

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