Well, this year can be different.
Zeno Vanfretti, owner of Poporopo (the onomatopoeia word for popcorn in Vanfretti’s native Guatemala) on Broadway down in the Rondout section of Kingston has been in business for three years, selling new and vintage toys made by small companies, many of which use green and recycled materials. Vanfretti has his own line of eclectic alien-, robot- and monster-themed hand-sewn plush dolls only offered in his store, as well as other hand-sewn plush dolls and items, such as a tooth fairy pillow, handmade by Kingston artists Cindy Huse and FussBudgets.
Poporopo stocks the shelves with recycled toy line Green Toys, which includes dump trucks, a dish set, gardening pots and boats for the tub. They also stock the ever-elusive dishwasher-friendly lunch boxes made of recycled materials and made in the USA. “Believe it or not, a lot of farmers buy that lunch box,” said Vanfretti. “They say that it’s the perfect lunch box and they can carry it around with them at work.”
What’s hot in the world of educational toys these days? Puppets, says Vanfretti. Folkmania, maker of silly puppets, was recommended to Vanfretti by a man who used to work with legendary Muppet-maestro Jim Henson for their soft form, quality and flexibility. “You can use them for entertaining a baby, and they can stay with the child as plush stuffed animals.” He also offers puppets with sticks for professional performances.
Hello Kitty? Hello Kitty everything — the Japanese feline pop-culture character continues to move any and all sorts of product to which her image is affixed.
Tin-metal toy replicas top the list for older kids, teens and adults, but don’t make great gifts for the wee ones, cautioned Vanfretti. “Some people think they are for kids,” he said, “but they have very sharp edges.” Tin-metal toy replicas comprise a sizable chunk of Poporopo’s product line, with Vanfretti explaining how the original antiques tin toys are lead-painted and expensive. Moreover, people will actually buy the replicas to have a smaller version of “what’s in the box.” Poporopo does sell kid-friendly tin toys, made by Schilling and Rocket USA.
Quality art sets, paint by numbers, board games, learning games, hydrology science kit, bubble blowers and a kids’ traveling pillow, all engineered to inspire imagination play, are also available. There are bins filled with $1 or less items, like tiny flying kittens and wind-up toys.
Wholesome toy offerings for less than $10 include recycled material Build-It steamboats for $6.99 and an assortment of Stitch-It projects, also for $6.99.
Poporopo has holiday hours Monday through Sunday 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m., and bargain-hunting shoppers will get a 10 percent discount on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Robyn Zimmerman, an employee of the Parent Teacher Store on North Front Street agrees that green toys are definitely hot this season. “We have this company called Eeboo and they have everything from board games to paper dolls, puzzles, matching sketch books and colored pencil sets and oil pastels. Party games, and they are also no plastics in them — 100 percent eco-friendly. Made from 75 percent recycled materials and soy-based inks. And their stuff is beautiful — absolutely beautiful. There’s a wide range of things this company does.”
Parent Teacher Store sells toys made from either recycled materials or renewable resources. And there’s everything from checkers and backgammon, to sturdy trucks and boats and tea sets. “The customers are loving them because the trucks and such also have some reconstituted sawdust in them, and so they are very attractive looking and very sturdy. They are really nice.”
Zimmerman said that both kids and adults are zipping around the shop on Plasmacars these days — the toy riding cars, suitable for kids 4 and up, use centrifugal force, gravity and friction to move. Running from $65-$99, they come in an array of colors.
Don’t overlook science kits for the science-curious child, Zimmerman suggests, including microscopes or telescopes.
As for your kids’ teachers, here’s a little hint: they don’t need any more chocolate, coffee mugs or scented lotions. “A lot of schools have lost their funding from budgets,” explained Zimmerman. “They have been teaching a while, so they don’t need mugs or Christmas ornaments. They spend their own money here. … So many teachers say to us, ‘If people ask you what we want, tell them to get us gift cards!’”
The Parent Teacher Store has 15 percent-off coupons available in the store right now, and wraps gifts for free. They are open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from noon-4 p.m.
Even though it’s winter, how about investing in equipment for a sport or outdoor activity your child enjoys? A North Face youth hiking backpack from Kenco Work and Play Outfitter on Hurley Mountain Road will run you $55 and a junior archery set ($18.95) will keep them busy for hours in the yard. Kenco currently has snowboards, boots and bindings 30-40 percent off and since Kingston has free launch points, maybe buying the family a kayak (on clearance right now) is a one-time investment in an activity that thereby becomes free of charge thereafter.