Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
From wholesome, organic wooden blocks to tawdry, nose-less Bratz dolls, Little Rock and its environs offer toys to suit many tastes. Sadly, one of the best toy stores, Toy Up, closed its doors earlier this year, but there are other fine options. Big box stores, of course, abound — Toys R Us, Target and Wal-Mart — but don't expect to find knowledgeable employees who understand the difference between Playmobil and Lego or can answer questions like, "What should I get my hyperactive 5-year-old nephew?" For that kind of service, you'll have to visit the following shops.
EQUALLY FUN FOR GROWN-UPS
Cheeky Marshmallows Located in the basement of beloved local boutique Box Turtle, this space comes close to filling the niche that Toy Up left behind. Named after the owners' dogs, this sweet shop has a superlative selection of artfully displayed toys and candy, both with a retro bent, plus gifts for hip babies (like locally made onesies). We especially love the antique bathtub full of Ugly Dolls! Adults will enjoy the retro pinball machine — and shopping upstairs while the kids (if well behaved) hang out below. 2616 Kavanaugh Blvd. 661-1167. CC accepted. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.
Heights Toy Center One of the oldest family-owned toy stores around, HTC remains an institution in this upscale neighborhood. Pre-recession, they expanded into the space next door and offered elaborate puppet shows and activities, but have since returned to their original size and single purpose — being purveyors of toys, both classic and contemporary. They also offer gift wish lists and personalized items. 5918 R St. 663-8383. heightstoycenter.com. CC accepted. 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.
NOT JUST FOR SCHOOL
The Knowledge Tree This store carries full lines of teacher aids and school supplies but also has educational toys, board games, stickers and a great selection of instruments and puppets. It also has many small items for stocking stuffers, Easter baskets, or just those occasions when you're in need of a smaller something. 825 N. University Ave. 663-2877. www.theknowledgetree.com. CC accepted. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.
MORE THAN CLOTHES
The Toggery Back in the day, Tot to Teen Shoes and The Toggery met all your wardrobe needs if you were 13 and under — a pair of red Keds and some Topsiders, and you were ready for the school year. Tot to Teen has long since gone the way of many family-owned local retailers, but The Toggery, founded in 1948, is still going strong and has even expanded its inventory and added a location. It's the go-to store for school uniforms, hair bows and all things smocked, but in recent years it's added books and toys. (FYI: It has the best backpacks in town.) Note that a little over a year ago their second store moved from its Rodney Parham location to a much nicer space in Pleasant Ridge. Uniforms are only available at the new store. Pleasant Ridge Town Center, 11525 Cantrell Road, Suite 405. 227-8492. www.toggerykids.com. CC accepted. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat. 5919 R St. 663-8662. CC accepted. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
MORE THAN JUST EDU-TOYS
Learning Express A locally owned franchise, Learning Express Toys has toys for all ages including American Girl, Calico Critters, LEGO, Melissa & Doug, Scientific Explorer, Sticky Mosaics, Ugly Doll, and many more. In addition to educational toys, they also have an assortment of fashion accessories, jewelry, party favors, cards and customizable gifts. Pleasant Ridge Town Center. 11525 Cantrell Road, Suite 912. 228-0440. littlerock.learningexpress-toys.com. CC accepted. 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.
TO THE MAXX
T.J. Maxx This discount store deserves a brief mention because it has a surprisingly good (albeit inconsistent) toy selection and insanely good prices. The trick is hitting it at the right time. (Shopper's secret: the one in Conway is less picked over than the other two). You can find name brands like Melissa & Doug for sometimes half the cost, specialty science kits, buckets of plastic dinos and more. Ashley Square, 9100 N. Rodney Parham Road. 225-6240. McCain Plaza, 4132 E. McCain, NLR. 945-5520. The Shops at Conway Commons, 655 Elsinger Blvd., Conway. 764-4000. All accept credit cards. All 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.