At the State Fair, I ran into Jeff Freeland Nelson (of our favorite toys YOXO–I think I’m going to call him Jeff YOXO from now on). I mentioned that I was so disappointed that Dan Marshall and Millie Adelsheim had closed Peapods earlier in the summer.
Jeff looked me right in the eyes and said, “They are opening a new toy store! I think they are going to call it Mystique or something like that.”
“What! Are you serious?”
I couldn’t believe it. But it’s true. All except the name of the store.
Minneapolis Toy Library has its grand opening in October, and if you have kiddos under the age of 6, you will want to check it out! Note: Much of this information is now outdated. See our Directory for current information.
If you are like me, you might be a little panicked. I need to start buying Christmas presents in January, or I put it off and put it off. Then, no one gets anything.
Or maybe you are like my husband and you are finished, but you need that one last thing. Family Fun Twin Cities has some great suggestions for you. We have met some great local toymakers and have played with their many different toys. Here are some of our familys’ favorites.Read More
In college, I had the privilege of being a nanny to a family with three awesome kids. They were highly creative and fun. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that they were “forced” to play. They didn’t watch very much TV.
Their toys were simple and basic–board games and puzzles, dolls and army men, bicycles and balls. My favorite toy memory was their building blocks. The kids would take their big blocks that filled two large baskets and design set-ups for their little wooden soldiers and little people, fortresses, cottages, castles, car ramps.
I ran across Beka, Inc at Peapods just a couple of weeks ago. It is a family-owned and operated, local company that manufactures natural wood products that started in St. Paul in 1973. The Kreisman brothers, Jamie and Richard and Peter, moved to Minnesota from Oregon to start a yarn shop together. During the start-up, they decided to begin fashioning looms and accessories that would benefit yarn shops and weavers. Not one of them was a woodworker or even a businessman. However, they didn’t let that stop them, and they plunged in with both feet.
As the yarn market grew smaller and the Kreisman family grew larger with the addition of children, their focus changed from looms to toys. Still insisting on high quality products, they started to offer maple blocks and art easels.
Their most popular products are the easels which can be custom designed. Everything is built in modular form so you can choose from a selection of different boards–chalkboard, whiteboard, magnetic board–between two different types of trays, and from other accessories. The blocks also come in different sets: Traditional Block Sets, Little Builder Sets, and Special Shapes Sets. You can also purchase blocks individually.
Easels and Maple Blocks are joined with other products like the puppet theatre, lemonade stand, train table, art table, and doll house. Other crafting tools and accessories take us back to Beka’s loom designing days. Different models of the Beginner’s Looms and Rigid Heddle Looms are available as an array of other weaving and knitting tools (I don’t know anything about this, but after working in this business for 40 years, I am completely certain these are the best you will find).
Beka, Inc. makes toys that will span the generations. These toys engage the mind and use imagination. They intentionally choose to to design toys that come with no bells and whistles. Their toys are fun all the time because they won’t break easily–last for years– and don’t take batteries or any power source beyond your imagination.
They do one thing* and do it well. Their products are sustainable and eco-friendly and have been from the beginning. The toys are 100% made in Minnesota or within our region. And if you are into comparing prices, Beka, Inc. is very competitive. The great prices the big names were able to offer in their start-up are not sustainable and they need to rise to meet the needs of their company.
Another thought: If you buy a block set from a big toystore (like Toys R Us or Target), those toys are made overseas and you get what you get. But if you buy local, it is much more likely that you will be able to customize.
Where can you find Beka’s products? They are sold in every state in the United States and even overseas. Here in the Twin Cities, you can find their products in Creative Kidstuff and Peapods. Also, through online retailers and through their website.
*Their one thing happens to be several things that are made out of natural wood.
Many locations throughout the Twin Cities host this popular toystore.
Creative Kidstuff is a locally designed, owned, and operated. They have locations in Edina, Maple Grove, Minneapolis (in the Linden Hills neighborhood), Wayzata, St. Louis Park, and St. Paul. They have even expanded to West Des Moines, Iowa.
We happened to be in the neighborhood of St. Paul’s Grand Avenue location when we stopped in to check it out.
Grand Avenue is host to a variety of eclectic shops, and Creative Kidstuff fits right in. They have a wide variety of toys: From specialty toys (European designed toy cars and Papo figurines) to common toys (LEGOS and playmobile). They had a wide variety of toys. They are a small shop, so, of course, they are not going to have the same number of toys in stock as the big toy stores. But I was supremely impressed with the selection.
The store was divided into several areas. These included
Trucks and cars
LEGOs and Playmobile
Outside toys like scooters. They even had special order playground equipment that reminded me of tinker toys.
Pretend play with a kitchen, cooking utensils, house cleaning supplies, gardening supplies, costumes
Marbles. An entire display of marbles: large ones, small ones, shiny ones, transparent ones. How cool is that? Marbles. I don’t think I’ve seen marbles for years–if ever. By themselves anyway. I have seen them with the Klutz books, but for some reason that’s not the same.
Pets–not stuffed animals. No, oh no. Supplies for your pets. For instance, there was a leather pouch that you could buy that made it possible to carry water for your dog when you go on a walk. And cat nip and such.
The store was spacious and colorful being well kept and orderly. The oversized windows and cheery lighting made the whole store feel like Candyland. And to top it all off not once did I lose a child– even when I couldn’t see them, I could hear them.
Each divided section of the store had a play area of those toys to use. The pretend play area had a kitchen set with a gazillion food items and utensils. The outdoor area had a small set up for the kids to climb on with a slide. The train area had a train table.
There was a big table in the back that looked like it was used for whatever the guests wanted to use it for. A big white table just the height for your child. At least for my children!
My absolute favorite was the bathroom. The founders of Creative Kidstuff know kids. When I noticed that Dash was possibly needing to use the facilities, I asked a staff member where the bathroom was, and she stopped everything she was doing to let us in. Once he was done using the toilet and was washing his hands, I noticed a small handwritten note on the mirror that said, “Look up at the ceiling, turn off the lights, and what do you see?” So we did that. Dash was entranced. I convinced Tori to take a bathroom break, too, and showed her the ceiling in the dark when she was done. “ooooh, they’re stars!”
Parking on Grand Avenue can be tricky as mostly it’s street parking. However, honestly I did not experience what the parking was like or if they had their own small lot in the back since we had parked at the Red Balloon Bookshop lot. Every single time we crossed at street (at the corner), drivers stopped for us. I’m not exaggerating. They were so considerate. Part of that may have had to do that we were crossing at the crosswalk, so I would highly recommend obeying the traffic laws and being as considerate of the drivers as they are of pedestrians.
The tempting bins of random, miscellaneous toys was RIGHT at Squirt’s height. I chased him down on numerous occassions in order to replace items in the correct bins. That was pretty exhausting. And I know they do that on purpose so that the kids can enjoy them, but as a mama? That’s a hard one.
Like I stated, there are other locations throughout the Twin Cities. I experienced the St. Paul location, but my guess is that they are all pretty similar having the same philosophy of kind and joyful customer service and a well maintained store. I did not feel the pressure to buy anything. I was regarded as a guest and treated with dignity.
Creative Kidstuff is enjoyable because it was made for kids. It was a delightful experience and one well worth it.
“Hey, guys? Ever been to a toy factory?” Jeff Freeland Nelson of Play From Scratch asked my boys as we walked into the warehouse.
“Scratch?” Jack said. He had been referring to “Scratch” all day and was excited to finally be there. But a toy factory was way beyond all he had ever hoped and dreamed. Jeff is an Eco Friendly Santa and his toy factory is a bit different than the big guy at the North Pole.
Here’s how Jeff and Santa differ:
Play From Scratch has all eco-friendly toys i.e. recyclable. Green and non-toxic are essential in this toy shop. (You can eat all of these toys. Although I wouldn’t recommend it)
While Santa must change with the trends, Jeff is going to change the trend. Play From Scratch is not a new concept, but it is a creative return to our toy roots.
Santa gives kids what they think they want. Play from Scratch gives kids what they really want.
Santa’s toys do everything for themselves. Play from Scratch’s toys inspire creativity and insist our kids do everything instead.
On November 11, 2011, Jeff started Play From Scratch because as a dad of a 3 year old boy and a 9 month old girl, he thought we can do toys better. There had to be a better way to play than with just piles of plastic. While working at Minnesota Public Radio, he started designing toy conceptions and consulting with his wife. His wife suggested recyclable toys, and at the time, he brushed her off. Weeks later, Jeff had this spark of brilliance. What if we made them recyclable! And Play from Scratch’s journey began.
Play from Scratch started as
One Giant Box ($24.99),
the World Famous Box of Boxes ($19.99–10 boxes in different shapes and sizes) ,
the Enormous Tube of Tubes ($19.99–14 tubes nested inside each other), and
the non-toxic tape stack ($14.99-5 different colored rolls).
Production began December of 2012. They also combined these products into different packages. The Creativity Party Pack is $49.99 and it includes the tape stack, the World Famous Box of Boxes, and the Enormous Tube of Tubes. The Everything Box includes everything in the Creativity Party Pack and a pack of Go Creative Cards.
In less than a year, they have added
Go Creative Card pack ($12.99),
Instant Superhero Downloadable Game ($1.99)–more about this in little bit– and
YOXO (different sets: Mega Builder $59.99, YOXObot Orig $19.99, YOXO to Go $12.99).
Daily Candy, a national online publication, was quoted to say that YOXO is the Eco friendly LEGO. Spot on! YOXO has launched Play From Scratch into the toy market. You can find YOXO in stores in Florida, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and more. (And of course all over Minnesota: The Red Balloon, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Kid Spark, Creative KidStuff, Peapods, Moss Envy, and more)
Let me tell you want I’ve discovered in the one short day of playing with Play From Scratch toys.
My son is very sensitive. He may have some sensory thing, maybe not, but either way we deal with a lot of out of control behavior. He doesn’t know what to do with himself. Two times during our first day of play, he got really upset. I found him with the YOXO, pulling apart the pieces, back under control. That in itself is worth the $19.99 for the robot!
When we went home with One Giant Box, at first I thought, it’s just a big refrigerator box, but it really is so much better than that. With the various-sized punch out rectangles and circles, you not only have cool doors and windows, but you have various canvases for artwork.
Even though our house is small, we were able to be creative with One Giant Box by creating it into another room. Our boys share a room and our girls share a room so if both boys or both girls need to take a break, we don’t have another room. So on the inaugural Play from Scratch Day, we were able to separate the boys. One on his bed, the other in One Giant Box. It’s what we in the parenting world call success!
Jeff has really done his homework. He has researched toys, been to toy expos, become acquainted with the toy community in the Twin Cities, tested his toys on his own children and the neighbors! He is a playful guy who is passionate to inspire creative kids and to do it in a way that doesn’t leave a lump of plastic in a landfill! Because no matter what they are made out of, toys break. They might as well be made out of something that won’t harm the earth.
Now, let me tell you about the newest game from Play From Scratch. Instant Superhero. It’s a downloadable game meaning the pieces are downloaded and assembled to create a superhero with a special power and a mission. You roll the dice to learn how you are going to communicate this to your fellow players. Tell your epic story, draw your car, etc.
And Play From Scratch is offering our readers the EXCLUSIVE chance to try Instant Superhero for FREE!
When you checkout, use the couponcode familyfuntc . It’s as easy as that.