Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

April 5, 2005 > I remember that!

I remember that!

The Toy Box

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

Stepping inside The Toy Box, the newest addition to Niles' historic downtown, you can become a veritable babe in Toyland. Try as you might, the colorful sights, myriad of playthings and the Candy Cupboard will exert their charms and before you know it, adults and children alike will be on the floor, playing with everything in sight. Slinkies, ant farms, Erector sets, hand puppets, trains and tin toys are just a sampling of what is in store for you at The Toy Box.

Marbles, yo-yos, board games, roller skates, kites and playing cards can be traced as far back as 4000 B.C. Imagine a Babylonian child playing a game that was probably the precursor to chess and checkers or a Scandinavian kid in 200 A.D. rolling around on the first iron skates. It was not until the 19th century that toys were manufactured on a large scale.

The modern history of toys begins in 1840 with the mass-production of dolls, followed in 1843 by the first board game to be sold in the United States, The Mansion of Happiness. In 1886, the first BB gun was sold. At the turn of the 20th century, Lionel Trains and teddy bears became popular. Tinker Toys, Crayola crayons, Erector sets and Lincoln Logs soon followed. Mid-century bore some of the most beloved toys in American history like the Slinky, Legos, Matchbox cars and one of the most popular children's games of all time, Candy Land.

In 1956, Milton Levine, while at a Fourth of July barbecue, thought of a better use for some small uninvited guests who wanted to share his dinner - an ant farm complete with live ants,. Classic toys like these have successfully defended their place among children's playthings for generations and retain their ability to bring out the whimsical kid in anyone.

Toys that have stood the test of time along with the best of the new will have you reeling with giddy delight at The Toy Box. Tin kaleidoscopes, Erector sets, rocking horses, wooden pop guns, Radio Flyer wagons and more can be found amid shelves full of everything a kid of any age could want. This shop has a unique assortment of timeless playthings that are still being produced and new toys designed to kick-start imaginations.

The Toy Box is the brainchild of John & Erica Lozano, who about two years ago, started their venture in the mountain town of Idyllwild in Southern California. They noticed that there was nothing for vacationing kids to do in the area - no parks, game shops or kid-friendly stores. Searching for an answer, Erica Lozano was reminded of what kept her entertained for hours as a girl - wooden blocks, dress-up clothes and tin cars. Erica's parents built a toy box for her and filled it with their favorite childhood toys. When she married and had kids, the box was passed on to her, now filled with the toys and games of two generations. Today, the Lozano grandchildren sort through the familial treasure chest, discovering playful relics hidden inside.

The family wanted to bring this legacy of enjoyment to everyone...and The Toy Box was born.

The couple had a clear vision of how to fill the store. They would find classic, educational toys that could not be found at chain retailers. John, a woodworker, wanted to create toys by hand. The couple found that making wooden toys would not be economically feasible and chose instead to carry classic and imaginative toys that could be enjoyed by the kids of today.

When John was asked by his employer to transfer to the Bay Area, the Lozanos fell in love with Niles and opened a second "one-of-a-kind" The Toy Box.

The Toy Box is a family business run with the help of their children who, joked Lozano, "may be my best customers." Recently, their son discovered a wooden yo-yo among the store's games and excitedly told his mother he couldn't wait to teach his daughters the games he used to play.

"It's old-fashioned fun," said Lozano about the items in her shop.

Old-fashioned means timeless at The Toy Box where you can find just about any toy you remember tinkering with as a kid. The Lozanos look far and wide to find the toys they remember as children.

Wooden blocks and paddle balls, rubber ducks and bathtub toys, tin whistles and dye-cast cars are just a few of the retro reproductions at The Toy Box. You would be hard-pressed to find these on the shelves of a large retailer.

"The most common comment we get [from customers] is 'Oh, I remember this!'" said Lozano.

Then there are customers discovering a "new" toy for the first time. Recently, a little boy came in the store clutching a five dollar bill. Running from shelf to shelf, he was amazed at all the toys. He was like a "kid in a candy store but it's a toy store," Lozano joked.

The Toy Box is brimming with implements of activity and imagination, two important aspects of childhood that may be lost among the high tech toys of today. The Lozano family feels they are not only operating a toy store but also encouraging parents to relive childhood memories through quality playtime with their own children.

A number of toys are travel-friendly and self-contained; something that mom and dad can appreciate. Adults can explore the shelves of The Toy Box and find just the right present for a child and end up with another destined for their own shelf.

"Grown-ups like toys, too," reminded Lozano.

"Grown-up" toys like steel Tavern puzzles, intricate jig-saw puzzles, card games and themed checkers and chess are also available in the store; however many adults are equally drawn to the wind-up figures, puppets and tin toys.

The Original Slinky shares room with "modern" toys that can also be found at The Toy Box including educational games and fashion dolls. The Toy Box shies away from "super-traditional" dolls that most retailers carry, opting instead for Only Hearts Club, "normal" looking girls complete with freckles and realistically proportioned bodies.

Looking for language flash cards, math games and motor-skill puzzles? They can be found at The Toy Box.

Any child that visits The Toy Box can become a magician, pirate, princess, or astronaut - whatever they imagine themselves to be. The toys found at the "Box" are as unique and special as the children they are intended for.

There are no beeping Gameboys to be found at The Toy Box. The purpose of the store is to encourage children to "explore the world around them," said Lozano. The shop features a large selection of Klutz books, a popular children's series brimming with colorful photographs and step-by-step instructions on everything from cooking to dollar bill origami. These books, Lozano noted, make it a snap to come home from work and spend fun, quality moments with your child.

"Sometimes it's hard to think of what to do with your kid, you're so busy trying to make money and survive so if you have a little help, you are going to spend more time [with your child]."

The Toy Box is also the perfect place to pick up unusual party favors for your child's next birthday. Paper Star kits, adorable, tiny towels that expand when they are soaked in water and all sorts of trinkets can be found here. The Toy Box will soon have a wrapping center, making it your one-stop gift shop for kids of any age.

Ageless and seemingly bottomless, come by and visit The Toy Box.

The Toy Box
37372 Niles Boulevard, Fremont
(510) 796-7050

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