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CHILD'S PLAY

AROUND HOME : Imaginarium Toy Stores

November 26, 1989|KAY DIEHL

MANY TOY STORES are designed as places where adults go to buy toys for children. They are not geared to the child as consumer. Toys, stacked in towering rows and piles of plastic wrapped boxes, can intimidate younger children and tantalize older ones because they are unavailable. At Imaginarium, at least one sample of each toy for sale is on display, ready to be "field-tested" by children (and parents).

Imaginarium does a great deal of product testing in their Walnut Creek headquarters, but this in-store baptism by fire enables them to be certain that the toys they carry hold up to ordinary wear and tear, not to mention abuse. Although not a sure-fire guarantee, it also helps ensure that children get what they expect and are not disappointed in the toys they choose.

Imaginarium has a definite philosophy when it comes to choosing the toys they carry. In addition to being safe and sturdy, toys must be nonviolent and non-sexist. (This lets out GI Joe and Barbie, and indeed many of the toys advertised on television.) Toys are grouped by age suitability, beginning with infancy. There is a sizable science and nature department and a good selection of books. Much of the Imaginarium stock is imported, and about 75% is not commonly available in discount toy stores. Although Imaginarium is not a discount merchandiser, its policy is to meet any competitor's price on merchandise carried elsewhere.

Sales staff members are trained to assist shoppers in selecting age-appropriate toys. Truly harried parents can also make appointments for personal shopping, either before or after store hours at no charge, a boon during the busy holiday season. Wrapping and shipping are available.

Imaginarium toy stores are in Century City, Santa Ana, Brea, Topanga, Northridge, Thousand Oaks, Westminster and San Diego (at Horton Plaza, University Town Center and North County Fair), and opening in the spring is a store in Sherman Oaks .

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