GiantSteps

Five-year-old Scotty enjoys testing out the toys at Giant Steps, an interactive toy store in Fairfield.

Walk into any toy store or department store and you’re apt to see at least one kid “toy testing.” But when it seems to be all about playing rather than purchasing, you may well also spot at least one raised managerial brow, and a “you break it, you buy it” look.

When Fairfield residents Howard Greenspan and his mother, Sheila Greenspan, entered a toy store in Massachusetts and spotted a working train and a little play area in back, theirs were looks of inspiration. What if a toy store were to have not one, but several play areas, where kids can develop their senses and simply have fun? In June 2010, that concept came to fruition when Giants Steps, an interactive toy and baby store, opened in Fairfield at 226 Kings Highway East.

“I give Howie the credit. He had the foresight of thinking this would be nice,” said Sheila, a former high school history teacher who later taught arts and crafts enrichment classes and owned the party business Something Special. She manages the store, which her son owns.

Not surprisingly, Giant Steps has a well-stocked arts and crafts section. But besides the variety of toys — from games and trains to Barbies and baby toys — the store has been designed so kids can truly play as the adults shop. There’s the giant treehouse, giraffe slide, life-sized foam and 3-D puzzles. Another area has a raised stage where pint-sized performers can put on a musical show and see themselves on TV. They can build in Thomas world, imagine in Lego-land or pretend in a kitchen area. And why toss a truck, car, or plane missing a part, when these toys can instead be labeled “broken” (to avoid an accidental purchase) and put out for young pretenders to enjoy?

“The way the store is set up, while a kid is occupied playing, the parent can totally shop,” explained Sheila, known by staff and customers alike as Mrs. G.

The ceiling of Giant Steps was decorated by students of a local elementary school, who designed, sketched and painted their masterpieces that all can now see.

But what brings families in most often, at least initially, are the free special events. Ongoing events include things like Mommy and Me sessions and Baby Sign Language, and twice a month there are special events centered around holidays and seasons. On Sundays, the store books arts and crafts and Lego birthday parties. “All these events put us on the map,” Sheila said, noting that if parents aren’t in need of an item at the time, they tend to come back to shop when they are. The store’s mailing list has about 1,500 names.

As for product pricing, Giant Steps aims to keep things in line with major mass retailers. Howard operates as an independent online seller on the Internet and so is able to work with high volumes and keep costs down. Sheila said that when determining price, she decides what seems fair rather than simply selling an item for the same price as a competitor.

And when choosing items to carry, she uses her knowledge of Giant Steps’ customer base. The store carries mainly name-brand items but aims to offer specific items within the Fisher Price or Melissa & Doug lines that are less commonly found elsewhere.

Customer services not always found elsewhere include a kid registry program (yes, the child can go around zapping items of interest, just like a couple who is expecting) and free gift wrapping on any item. Some customers call the store about a needed gift and let Mrs. G recommend something, and then come in to pick it up, gift-wrapped and all. She said, “That’s what we’re all about, service and help.”

Giant Steps, located at the former location of Paradise Patio, is open 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The store may be reached at 203-873-0754, or visit GiantStepsToys.com.

GiantSteps

Five-year-old Scotty enjoys testing out the toys at Giant Steps, an interactive toy store in Fairfield.