UPDATE: As of 2/20/12, the WONDER! store has closed.
I keep my kids out of the mall/Target/ToysRUs as much as possible, partly because I don’t want to promote “shopping as a pastime,” or consumerism, and partly because I don’t want to have to say “no” a million times when they ask for everything in sight. So, when I was invited to the new WONDER! store opening in Deerfield, Illinois, I was a little skeptical. After all, do we really need another big toy store? Wasn’t it just going to be another egregious display of consumerism in the affluent suburbs of Chicago? A company touting itself as “the country’s largest children’s retailer” surely sounds like a place to be overwhelmed and underinspired. So, imagine my surprise when WONDER! turned out to be rather delightful. Yes, it’s slick, but it’s also surprising. Yes, it’s upscale, but it’s also down-to-earth.
Targeted mainly at families with kids ages 0 to 7, the enormous WONDER! store features 135,000 square feet of retail space. An impressively large proportion of that space has been devoted to letting kids play, including a 20,000-square-foot interactive play space with “custom topography” (colorful hills to play on). Add to that party rooms and class rooms which are set to feature a variety of educational offerings from art to zoology, and WONDER! has created a potentially hot destination for frazzled parents during a long Chicago winter.
The aisles are wide, and play is encouraged, from a bike-and-trike “test track” to the dollhouse aisle, where kids are encouraged to try out the product. When I asked founder Shane Christensen whether WONDER! has a philosophy that helps determine what types of toys to carry, he said the company wants to encourage “unstructured play and imagination.” Though the store does carry mass-market products such as Barbie and HotWheels, he seemed particularly proud of the arts-and-crafts selection, which is huge. It’s definitely the largest selection of Alex and Melissa and Doug products I’ve seen under one roof.
Another feature that makes this a great family destination is the on-premise Bean Sprouts Cafe (soon to be completed). Serving food that is kid-friendly, fun, and healthy is no small feat, but these folks have perfected that art. Bean Sprouts is also nut-free, music to the ears of many parents with food allergies in the family. WONDER! has also opened an online shopping site, www.shopwonder.com, but the main attraction right now is the unique retail space and interactive play offerings. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and shop with your kids. So why not get the job done and have fun?
Finally, I don’t see any information about community outreach on the WONDER! website yet, but I hope that’s in the offing. I’d love to see WONDER! conduct a coat or mitten drive to help needy local families, make a donation to an infant needs outreach like First Things First, or perhaps offer some “scholarships” to some of their cool enrichment classes. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt while they complete their massive launch, because WONDER! seems like a store with its heart in the right place. Have fun checking it out with your kids!
Disclosure: I was invited to a blogger event at the WONDER store, where I received a gift card, cookbook and music CD. I was not asked to write this blog post.