MINNEAPOLIS — What could be better than being set loose in a toy store?
How about getting to roam through a toy convention?
That's we did when the trade show for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association came to the Twin Cities this month, briefly turning a cavernous exhibit hall of the Minneapolis Convention Center into a sort of Santa's workshop on steroids. (It was the first big convention at the Convention Center since the start of the pandemic.)
Nearly 300 exhibitors were on hand to show off the latest in toy trucks, cars, trains, dolls, blocks, puzzles and games, while toy shop owners browsed for merchandise that they hope they'll be selling you this Christmas.
Business has been good for toy makers during the pandemic, although costs have gone up thanks to supply chain blockages and price increases in container shipping from Asia, where many toys are manufactured.
Families stuck together at home snapped up puzzles and games over the past year and half, according to vendors at the convention. And parents sought out science kits and other educational toys to help kids learning at home. Chess boards were a hot item thanks to the hit Netflix show "The Queen's Gambit." The search for safe, outdoor activities meant that sales of sidewalk chalk and kites have soared.
"There was a big bubble craze," said Ron Weizman, co-founder of a Florida-based bubble solution company, South Beach Bubbles. "It was very good for outdoor toy sales in general."
And we've all been spending a lot of time sitting in front of screens. That's driven demand for distracting, stress-relieving, handheld-manipulation toys.
"We're seeing incredible demand," said toy putty maker "Crazy" Aaron Muderick. "Fidgeting is in."
Here are some of our favorite toys at the show: