We paid a visit recently to one of my favourite toy stores in the whole world, Hot Toads. The physical store itself isn’t all that impressive — it’s a small, concrete-floored basement room in a medical building, with sparsely-stocked wooden shelves, draped with puppets and stuffed toys hanging by clothespins from simple lines strung across the room. The back wall features a working 10-foot long model train table made entirely out of Lego.
But it’s not about the decor — it’s what they carry that makes this place special. Plan Toys. HaPe. Schylling. Plastic toys made from recycled milk jugs. Non-toxic wooden toys. Toys intended to enrich the mind and body of your children, not just feed into consumerism and branding.
And for me, it is a local store, within driving distance, right here in Atlantic Canada. Unfortunately for my American friends reading this, while they do take online orders, Hot Toads only delivers within Canada. Sorry, eh?
One of the many cool items they have is a line of large toy cars called E-Racers, from HaPe’s Bamboo Collection. I had a nice chat with the fellow working there, and learned that apparently these were the first toys to be made from bamboo. I was surprised that, while bamboo has been used for clothes, cutlery and dinnerware, flooring and even wallpaper for some time, the idea of bamboo toys was still relatively new.
He also filled me in on a fact I had previously been unaware of. Of course, bamboo is the new golden child of the eco movement: it grows easily and quickly without pesticides, and is therefore a readily renewable resource with low environmental impact. Bamboo wood is attractive and sturdy, and bamboo cloth is soft and has natural antibacterial properties. As worldwide consumer demand for bamboo has increased dramatically in recent years, some companies have taken to clear-cutting hardwood forests in order to make room for bamboo plantations. And despite bamboo’s rapid growth, difficulty in seed propagation combined with over-harvesting has even threatened some species to near-extinction.