Trendy is never the catchword for Basia Sobus when she stocks her shelves for the holidays at Toy Emporium, 143 S. Vine, Park Ridge, which has continued a decades-long tradition of a toy store on the west side of Uptown.
Sobus emphasizes the educational value and specialties of toys while matching them in age-group-particular sections in her storefront. The Polish native doesn’t pretend to compete with big-box stores, so she can sell according to her tastes and customers’ wants.
“I go from newborns to teens,” Sobus said. “But there is no one toy for everybody. I take them to their age group and people decide what they need…There’s never one toy where I say, this is it.
“For newborns (to age 1), everything is touching, smelling. They take everything to their mouth. From a year to 2-3 years old, they like anything with music, recognizing different sounds. Starting at 3, it’s arts and crafts, and simple games. When boys get older, they like to build things, like Legos.”
Sobus, though, bows to tradition. Bozo the Clown is evergreen through the generations. So there’s a Bozo punching bag in the center of the store. Or a rif on the old standby Etch-A-Sketch, called a Boogie Board.
“That’s something for 2 year olds to 99 year olds,” Sobus mused. “This is something new for this season.”
No unused space in cozy store
In the cozy store, there is hardly a centimeter of unused space. Travel to a back corner and look up to encounter more tradition. Sturdy huge German-made construction trucks bump up against red fire engines whose hoses work.
“Those you can pass from generation to generation because they don’t break,” she said. “It’s plastic, but it’s very sturdy and well-made.”
Automoblocks are small cars that boys, at an age of the Lego-building, can assemble and disassemble to develop their skills
Sobus opened Toy Emporium three years ago.
“I always had interest in very good quality toys,” she said. “I started looking for different stuff for my nephews because I didn’t like cheap plastic (toys). I’d see something unique and wanted to give them something where they could use their brain, something educational. I discovered stores like mine, independent toy stores.”
Sobus chose Uptown as her first retail venture.
“Park Ridge is a very cute suburb,” she said. “Very neat. When I came here, customers told me years ago there was a store (Petunia) like mine. They really missed it. Nobody was here. When I opened, they really liked the quality of the toys.”
Nostalgia of customers is a spur to business.
“I buy classic toys, and everybody remembers them,” Sobus said. “They still make those toys. When people come here, they remember when they played with something, and want their kids to play with them, too. It brings back very good memories from their childhood. They will be drawn to that.
“Like the Bozo punching bag. Everybody loves Bozo.”