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Hay: “I look for quality, high-end, educational, and fun toys.” Photo by Jeff Prince.

It’s a scene that repeats two or three times a day at my house: There’s a knock on the door. After calming our (read: my wife’s) irritating small dog, corralling my 2-year-old, quieting my infant daughter, and putting on pants, I open the door only to see the back of some delivery person who left one or more packages at my doorstep. I (almost) always resist giving that person the ol’ third-finger salute – they’re just doing their job, I guess – collect the package, and head back inside to add yet another box to the pile in my garage. (One day, I’ll wield a box cutter and banish them all to the recycling bin, but for now, mouse forts!) 

My wife – and to a lesser degree, me – are addicted to ordering everything online. Groceries, clothes, gifts, and even dinner is just a click away. As guilty as I am of indulging in the convenience of Amazon-delivered everything, I’m still an old soul who misses the personal connection of actually going to a place, seeing people, and thumbing through physical stuff. Of course, I’m also a giant hypocrite – you know, the kind of person who derides anyone whose nose is stuck in their iPhone and then goes home and stares into his screen like a caveman peering into a campfire. 

Around the holiday season, I’m always more aware of this click-it-to-me-baby trend, because the most painful casualty of the online ordering movement might be the toy store. They’re gone. Disappeared almost completely. Even big-box corporate dream-killers Toys “R” Us and its $11 billion in annual sales have vanished from the Earth as though raptured into some germ-infested, screaming-kid, child-abuse-all-around-you hellscape.

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My guess is that few if any kids born over the last several years will get to experience the matchless bliss of ambling into a wonderland of rows upon rows of toys anchored by special push-this-button-through-the-box displays of whatever the hottest must-have of the moment might be. And, more importantly, how will the next generation ever understand that scene in Big in which new adult Tom Hanks plays “Chopsticks” with his soon-to-be boss at FAO Schwarz? These kids will have no context. 

If you’re wondering how many toy stores exist in Fort Worth, the answer is three – and one them, Holocron Toy Store, sells collectibles geared towards adults. There are a few other kid-centric places that sell toys (see: Legoland), but it’s not their main attraction. Houston Street Toy Company in Sundance Square and Toy Works in the Ridglea area are the two remaining holdouts of this endangered species. And unlike those pandas at the zoo that refuse to mate without some smooth R&B playing (that happened; look it up), you just get the feeling that once these places are gone, nothing will replace them – and we’ll have lost something pretty special. 

Nancy Hay, who owns Toy Works along with her husband Art Hay, said that she noticed the online ordering craze hitting her bottom line about three or four years ago. Her shop is family-run and has been in business since 1995 – and at her current location since 2010. 

Though she has a tough time competing with Amazon’s prices, nothing, she added, compares to the personal touch and service of her Camp Bowie Boulevard storefront. 

“People like to be able to talk to us about the toys, feel the toys, know how they work,” she said. And they get instant gratification. You walk out of here with the toy.”

Hay holds a degree in child development and family studies, and she uses her education to help her curate her selection. She eschews heavily licensed toys and the big-box crazes and chooses her inventory based on what she likes. 

“I look for quality, high-end, educational, and fun toys,” she said. “Grandmas are our customers, young mothers –– people who grew up coming here and are passing that tradition along to their children.”

Even as a fortysomething, sifting through the selection at Toy Works conjured some of my fondest childhood memories. Remember being rewarded with a cool new toy for hitting the game-winner or acing that test? Me neither, but I was really good at begging. And being persistent. 

All you have to do is see these places for yourself, and you’ll experience the same nostalgic bliss. Now that I have kids, these kinds of in-person experiences are suddenly important to me. I want my children to learn the value of human connection and be able to make decisions about how they spend their time based on more than whichever company paid to be prominent in Amazon’s or Google’s respective algorithm. 

That’s a lot of pressure to put on toy stores, but think about how important toys are in our children’s development. (I’ll wait.) Now answer me this: Wouldn’t you rather have someone like Nancy Hay curating your kiddos selection versus Amazon? Are you even more qualified than she is? You might think you know what your young’uns like, but you’re being barraged with marketing ploys that make you feel informed. You’re not. I’m not. We’re just variables in a giant math equation. 

Up until now, I’ve been a part of the problem, but one trip to a toy store might have changed that. It’s not the most profound Christmas miracle you’ll hear about this season, but it’s a start.

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