- The Alexander Doll Company
615 W. 131st St., 212-283-5900
“Though Alex didn’t know it at the time she was picked to head the new fashion magazine Élan, tongues wagged. She got the job because of her looks.” Only a doll made in New York would come with a gossipy backstory, a name like Alexandra Fairchild Ford, and socialites for friends ($99.95). Though not all of Alexander’s creations are so Wintour-esque, the chic, exquisitely dressed figurines from this 83-year-old Harlem doll factory make Barbie look positively suburban. Lower-priced options include the tween-friendly French Kitty ($24.95) and the Coquette line (a mini-version of the company’s classic “Cissy” collectible, starting at $85). While there, visit doll-hospital staffer “Doctor” Greta Schrader, who’s been healing the injured for 52 years. With dolls like Alex, catfights are to be expected.
- Robot Village
252 W. 81st St. , 212-799-7626
R2-D2’s approving chirp as you descend the steps to Robot Village is the first sign you’re about to get in touch with what owner David Greenbaum calls your “inner android.” Neophytes might want to start with the store’s ready-made varieties, such as the fearsome Roboraptor ($119.95). Dozens of robot kits (starting at $12.95) allow children to build and program all kinds of contraptions themselves. The Snap Circuits line (starting at $29.95) lets you build your own doorbells, sirens, and laser sound effects. Advanced kids go for Mindstorms ($199.95), a 700-some piece Lego set that comes with software and a receiver to program your creation. Best of all, parents confounded by the whiz-bang of it all can purchase instruction time at the “bot-building stations” for their junior scientists.
- Toy Tokyo
121 Second Ave., No. 2F, 212-673-5424
Walking into the somewhat dusty, overflowing second-floor Toy Tokyo is like walking into your grandmother’s attic, if, say, your grandmother were a futuristic Japanese science-fiction buff who also had a taste for outsider art, a wicked sense of humor, and a soft spot for American popular culture. Here, many of the toys are for grown-ups, including vinyl Godzillas in a full spectrum of colors and specially commissioned items like a corpulent and sinister take on Ronald McDonald, dubbed McSupersize. But there are dozens of kid-friendly collectibles, from Snoopy to Star Wars figures, along with the ever-popular Uglydolls. Snap-together Stikfas action figures (starting at $7.99) offer portable fun, and the Japanese “blind-box” toys (starting at $1.99)—collected like baseball cards—are highly addictive.
- Dinosaur Hill
306 E. 9th St., 212-473-5850
This store peddles brightly colored wooden blocks and games you won’t mind seeing in your living room. Owner Pamela Pier, who opened shop in 1983, sells a dozen varieties of blocks, in languages including Hebrew and Braille. For preliterate little ones, there are Haba and Selecta wooden rattles ($7 to $21.50) and the Kouvalias Musical Toy ($58.25), a set of rainbow-hued wooden globes connected by springs to a revolving wooden base, to help stimulate those tactile skills. And for children on the move, Pier carries gear like Selecta’s delightful, waddling mouse push-toy on a stick ($35.50), the perfect companion for when the stroller set actually begins to stroll.
Politically Correct Toys
- Sons + Daughters
35 Ave. A, 212-253-7797
If disposable diapers, plastic toys, and baby superstores are turning your tot into another landfill-clogging, conscience-free capitalist, ease your tortured soul at this socially conscious shop. Each toy has a feel-good factor: Jamtown’s three-piece music kit ($45) contains instruments made in Peru and Indonesia and purchased under Fair Trade principles. Pastel Toys’ weathered-blue blocks ($34.50) were crafted by disabled people on an Israeli kibbutz. The Magic Castle Playhouse ($42.50) is made of recycled cardboard. Dutch-born owner Carin Van Der Donk, a former fashion model and a mom to a 6-year-old, opened the store in 2003 after reading about worker abuse in China, where many toys are made. “For that extra 50 cents or $10 you’re going to pay for a handcrafted or Fair Trade toy,” she argues, “you’re saving whole environments and cultures.”