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Toy Shops

 Toy Shops: Then And Now


Toy shops are typically bustling with bright-eyed children and their weary parents, especially as the Christmas season approaches. Today's toy shops feature a variety of products, ranging from baby dolls to race cars and even video games. Technological toys have certainly taken over the industry, as is evidenced by their prominence in today's toy shops. With the sheer mass of technological products available in modern toy stores, it is likely that children from the 19th century would recognize the modern toy shop as a place of delight for children. Toy shops today are unrecognizable to parents and grandparents, who speak fondly of the sense of community within their childhood toy stores.

Not only are today's toy shops different due to their focus on technology, they are much larger than the toy stores of the past. Originally, there were few stores specifically designated for children's toys. Instead, general stores aimed at selling merchandise to adults would also sell a few toys. Most dime stores had small toy collections that included cheaply made toys. Some department stores sold toys as well, although these were usually more expensive and stylish, and oftentimes meant more for show than to be played with. While many hobby stores sold children's products, the toys found in them were limited to model kits and electric train sets. A few sporting goods offered children's products, but these only included bicycles and baseballs.

However, by the 1860's, toy shops were appearing in larger cities such as London. The original toy shops consisted of a single room with shelves of toys such as dolls, jacks and train sets. Some of these toys would appear quite crude to today's children, but in the past, they were looked upon as valuable treasures.

With the industrial revolution came factory produced toys which were much less expensive than the hand-made toys sold in wealthy neighborhoods. Middle-class and even poor families could now afford toys for their children. Manufactured toys were produced cheaply in great masses, and as a result, became much less unique and failed to express the individuality of older toys.

Toys also grew less unique as radio and television gained influence. Toys soon imitated popular television and movie characters. The other major change in toy shops came with the middle-class flight to the suburbs during the mid-twentieth century. The suburbanization of toy shops led to the large stores filled with modern technological toys that we visit today.