When Ann Kienzle, a veteran in the toy industry, was living in Logan Square, she thought the neighborhood could use a toy store. She made that dream a reality in 2010, with the opening of Play, and followed with additional locations in Lincoln Park and Andersonville.
This month, Kienzle opened a fourth location – more than double the size of the other stores – in the West Loop in the former Cat & Mouse Games space at 1112 W. Madison St.
Kienzle says that Play isn’t your average toy store. Every piece of merchandise sold at the store is carefully curated to fit the community they serve.
The Logan Square store, for example, is heavy on selling musical toy instruments as a nod to the community. In Andersonville, there is a wide selection of both LGBTQA and Swedish books. Lincoln Park features a mix of everything, and the new West Loop location offers a foodie section stocked with kid’s cookbooks and cooking tools.
“A goal of mine is always to have every child come in and see themselves in the toys and the books that we carry,” she says.
Pivoting during the pandemic
Originally known for weekly storytimes, music classes and a large selection of toys out on the floor at the stores, Kienzle had to pivot at the onset of the pandemic. She saw stable customer base in curbside pickup as parents began to see the value of having kids play the traditional way and take a break from the overload of tablets and other electronic devices.
“The pandemic saw an increase of kids playing,” she says. “Seeing that was promising to me. Many people don’t recognize the importance of play in a child’s development.”
For that reason, Play is primarily focused on non-electronic toys such creative play, pretend play, outdoor play, games, puzzles and books. While play primarily caters to the 0-11 crowd, they also offer items for tweens, like Rainbow LED Smart Lights.
The latest and toys can be found in the bi-annual publication, Playbook. The store even supports other Chicago-based businesses. They recently started carrying apparel from the local company, Transit Tees.
Making shopping easy for parents
In addition to catering to kids, Play takes the burden of shopping off of parents. Looking for the perfect gift for a birthday boy or girl but don’t know what to buy them? Give Kienzle your budget and payment info and she’ll text you options and then bring a wrapped gift to your car. Debating on a big toy like a kitchen, dollhouse or train table but don’t want to decode the instructions and put it together? Play has got your back with free toy assembly.
“We really try to make it easy to shop with us,” Kienzle says. “I understand how easy it is to sit on your phone, order from Amazon and have it at your house the next day. I want to make shopping with us as convenient as it can be and way more fun.”
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