I think I just interviewed Santa Claus.
That’s what I said when I hung up the phone after an interview with a toy expert for a story previewing Black Friday.
Let me explain.
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There was no ho-ho-ho-ing or anything like that, but the man called me back while on the train to Virginia to visit his grandkids for Thanksgiving. The fact that he called me back is a little victory, as it’s hard for reporters to reach any sources during a holiday week.
He doesn’t have a white beard or look anything like Santa, really. But speaking in a deep and kind voice, he was clearly in touch with the magic of Christmas. He spoke genuinely about the excitement of children wondering what’s under the tree and the joy of parents and grandparents picking just the right gift.
Granted, that’s his job and he doesn’t live at the North Pole, so maybe we’ll call him a modern day Santa.
Anyway, he had some advice for parents and grandparents that’s worth sharing.
First, take your child to a toy store, he said.
“As hard as Target and Walmart and JCPenney and Kohl’s try, they’re not toy stores,” he said. “There’s something very special about going to a true toy store at Christmas.”
That’s getting a little harder to do these days, especially since Toys R Us has closed. One of Fresno’s most iconic toy stores that readers will remember, Arthur’s Toys, operated from the late 1940s to somewhere around 2002.
The only true toy store in Fresno today is Professor Toy. The educational themed store has a location in the Villaggio shopping center near Nordstrom Rack. It has a Visalia location at 3448 S. Mooney Blvd. The stores sell ponies for kids to ride on, mini drones called “heliballs” that kids control with their hands, narwhal-themed gifts and science kits. There is a whole room of arts and crafts related merchandise.
Several other stores in town carry some toys, like Petunia’s Place bookstore.
It’s not just about supporting locally owned stores though, which Gottlieb expects to see grow now that Toys R Us is gone.
With the big stores, the toys on the shelves are usually the same ones you’ve seen on TV or YouTube, he said.
“When you go into an independent toy store, you’re going to have that aha! moment, that ‘I never saw that before’” reaction, he said.
Those stores are more likely to have gifts your child isn’t expecting.
Gottlieb said the reason the L.O.L Surprise! toys – balls with dolls and accessories hidden inside – are on the top toys list is because children don’t know exactly what’s inside them.
“They offer a surprise and a lot of surprise has gone out of gift giving,” he said. “That deprives children of the some of the excitement. It’s kind of cool when you get something and you didn’t know what’s in the box. “
As for grandparents, Gottlieb has advice for them too.
“Don’t give your grandchildren what they want,” he said.
Let their parents do that.
“You give them your passion,” he said to grandparents.
“If you give them your passion – maybe you love Barbie dolls or a you’re a stamp collector – the worst that will happen is that they’ll learn something about you. The best that could happen is that you create a passion.“
And even better, you might create a passion that you can do together.