‘Way cool’ key to success for toy guru — Save some Lava Lamps for grownup kids!

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Heather SinClair is the congenial, knowledgeable owner of Snap Dragon toy store.

NEW BERN – Christmas shoppers who pop into Snap Dragon, a specialty toy retailer in downtown New Bern, will be hard-pressed to find the faddish, mass-marketed, and licensed children’s gifts that are the stock in trade for most of today’s big box stores.


Big, colorful and loaded with kid-friendly merchandise, the shop features wonderful
graphics like this poster of Amelia Earhart touting the ‘Who Was’ and ‘Who Is’ series of biographies.

After 22 years, Heather SinClair of Snap Dragon has carved out a remarkable niche in the toy biz. She knows the industry well. Most of her store is ‘sectioned-off’ to help customers find age-appropriate items. She encourages ‘creative play’ – citing “craft kits, science kits, pull toys for small children, dress up for both boys and girls.” She has a well-earned respect for the vagaries of the marketplace. Asked to pick a top-seller this Christmas season, SinClair impressed this reporter by candidly admitting: “I rarely can pinpoint one great toy,” she said. “All my customers have different tastes. We sell a wide variety of items each week. We have items that are classic, retro, and new that you might not find in a big box store.”


Speaking of those classics, SinClair quickly reels off various blasts from the past: Metal slinkys, original Light Bright, well-known diversions like Clue and Rubic Cubes, Lava Lamps, and Brio wooden trains.

And, what about toys that offer the most fun per dollar spent? We have in mind, of course, grandparents on fixed incomes, who must stuff the stockings for a plethora of grandkids.

“There are many items here from ‘Melissa & Doug’ – coloring books, sticker play sets, water wow – most are for kids under the age of 7, with a price of around $5 or so. We also sell lots of ‘Who Was – Who Is’ books,” she added. “Kids love reading about everyone from early explorers, artists, and presidents up to modern-day influencers.”

Toys for the youngest among us should downplay all of the bells and whistles, opines this toy expert.

“We don’t stock very many baby items that make a lot of sound or have a lot of lights. We prefer items that encourage the adults to interact with them. Babies need to explore on their own. Too much noise and lights overstimulates.”

SinClair frequently recommends games and puzzles. “Kids need and want parent and grandparent time. The important part is playing and not who wins!”

And to ensure success this Christmas season, adults should always ask for a sneak peek at that Letter to Santa. Make some mental notes and walk straight into Snap Dragon on Middle Street.

“That way,” suggests Heather, “you eliminate the big difference between what adults think their kids would like, and what those same kids actually want!