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Play ball! And everything else

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THE HEIGHTS OF TOYS
  • THE HEIGHTS OF TOYS

When war, famine and a losing baseball team are getting us down, there’s a place to go where we can’t help but smile: the toy store. In particular, we like the Heights Toy Store, a family-owned shop for all of its 70-plus years in business. Its expansion last year didn’t ease the crowding a bit; go in Greg and Brenda Bonner’s store and you’ve got to duck walk around the pull toys, baby dolls, kites, stuffed animals, fancy metal soldiers, fancy interlocking block sets, butterfly nets, tall banks that look like ducks, an Air Pogo that combines bouncing with swinging, dress up stuff, doll houses, play makeup, balls …

Greg Bonner looks at it this way: “The worse the world gets, the more you want to hang out at the toy store. I’m not the real world.” Bonner, 45, whose parents bought the store in 1966 and whose wife and children work there, too, is the perfect toy merchant: He’s chirpy, garrulous, clearly at home among the cowboy outfits and Brio. The expansion of the store, at 5918 R St., allowed the Bonners to offer complete lines of brands they carried only best sellers in before, such as their line of Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles. Lovely European wooden toys and such still dominate, but a few things in the store come from the United States — the Air Pogo is from Mississippi. Trends Bonner has noticed: Independent toy makers are going out of business because manufacturing costs have gotten too high — which has left Bonner scrambling for a replacement for his wicker doll buggies. European toy makers are also turning to China to make their items. And boomers are now buying toys for strictly themselves — dolls for women, diecast cars for men — “things they didn’t get as a child,” Bonner said. “That’s a huge trend nationally.”

So Bonner is selling to all ages — kids, of course, whom he also entertains on summer Wednesdays with puppet shows and storytelling in the store’s cool basement; grown-up women who never got the Madame Alexander doll they wanted; and, lately, seniors. The game of dominoes is hot again. “I can tell [the customers] are retirees,” Bonner said. They look surprised to find themselves in a toy store again.




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