A real-life toy story: Top Ten Toys celebrates 25 years of creative kids play

by | Aug 16, 2012

Chances are if you have a kid or know a kid, then you’ve been to Greenwood’s Top Ten Toys to buy toys, books, Legos, science kits, puppets or just to play with the cool train table.

Well, tomorrow Top Ten Toys celebrates its 25th anniversary with a carnival in its parking lot. That means games, face painting, balloon animals, yo-yo performers, a dunk tank, and a raffle every 15 minutes. The carnival is from 2-6 p.m. at 104 N. 85th St. and it’s all free.

Top Ten Toys started out across the street from its current location, in a little strip mall on North 85th Street. Current owner Allen Rickert’s sister, Adelia, a therapist who had studied developmental psychology, started the store after having her own child.

“She was way ahead of the curve,” Allen says. “She was interested in toys being less violent and more ecological.”

Allen helped his sister here and there, came on board full-time 13 years later, then bought the store from her.

More than just a toy store, Top Ten Toys is a mission for its owner and more than 30 employees. The store is full of wooden toys, Lego sets, puppets, art supplies, science kits and other hands-on toys that stimulate a child’s creativity. The store’s unofficial motto is “Keeping healthy play alive.”

“We thrive because there is an educated populace that asks for this type of selection,” Allen says.

The store will never sell candy, Barbies, or other dolls that have large amounts of makeup or hyper-sexualized images.

It just received a Golden Teddy Award from ParentMap readers for best toy store, and was named 2012 Retailer of the Year by the Western Toy & Hobby Retail Association.

Sales Associate Robert Persinger, Event Manager Storm Bennett, Owner Allen Rickert and Head Buyer Kathie Dockstader love their puppets.

The store carries toys from all over the world, as well as close to home. Allen and his staff try to balance buying local with supporting free trade/fair market companies around the globe.

And, yes, the employees play with the store’s toys and games to make sure they’re fun, sturdy, and safe. And so they can give kids first-hand knowledge if they have questions.

“We will discontinue something for the sheer factor of being lame,” Kristi Thomas, one of the store’s buyers, says with a laugh.

Top Ten Toy’s biggest sellers include rocks (minerals such as Hematite), marbles, wind-up toys, and Stomp Rocket Junior. Thomas says they sold 10,000 eight-cent marbles in the last year, and 4,800 rocks.

Top Ten Toys sold 10,000 eight-cent marbles last year. This is just part of their marble selection.

The store makes buying decisions in part on a product’s packaging. If it’s a cool toy, but has excessive packaging, they won’t buy it. That environmental sense extends to the store’s carpeting. When they replaced all 7,200 square feet of it eight years ago, they didn’t want to send it to a landfill, but couldn’t find a carpet recycler in the Northwest. So they shipped it to a recycler in the Midwest.

Now, Allen says, the carbon emissions from transporting it probably negated the environmental impact of throwing it in the trash, but he felt it was important to make a statement. He says the store received national attention for it.

“The only way to prime the pump, to make a statement, was to recycle it,” he says. “I was trying to raise consciousness about recycling.”

There are several buyers at the store, instead of just one. The employee who’s most into rocks does the buying for those, and the same goes for puzzles, games, etc.

Says Allen, “It’s much more of a cooperative effort.”

While Allen says Walmart is the largest toy store by volume in the United States, Top Ten Toys is now the largest toy store in Seattle, since Toys ‘R Us at Northgate closed in January. Allen says at one point he did a little reconnaissance work at the Mill Creek Walmart, wanting to see how many science kits and microscopes that store sold. The answer was zero.

“The Mom-and-Pops are trying to fill the gaps by providing more hands-on science toys,” he says, adding that many other independent toy stores have told him they also see selling science kits as part of their mission.

“The good thing about the independents is we can follow our passions,” he says. “We’re not tied to stockholders.”

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