Parents cautious when shopping for toys

MCT photo: Bill Hogan Thomas & Friends tops were recalled in August.

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

Crumpled list in hand, Annette McCall warily eyed the shelves of brightly-colored toys Saturday morning.

Inches away, McCall’s 15-month-old daughter, Tara, sat happily chewing on a plastic set of keys. “I’m kinda scared to even buy her toys for Christmas,” McCall said. “She puts everything in her mouth.”

The 32-year-old mother’s fear stems from large toy recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than 1.5 million Chinese-made toys, including Thomas the Tank Engine, Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street, were recalled because they were found to have lead paint, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Web site.

The recalled toys account for less than 1 percent of the 3 billion toys Americans purchase each year, according to the Toy Industry Association.

McCall said she planned to buy simple toys manufactured in the United States for her toddler. “I’m trying not to stress,” she said. “She’ll probably like the boxes and bows best anyway so I’m keeping the gifts to a minimum.”

Stores are feeling the effects of parent’s worries at the national level.

Target Corp. has said that its toy business has been “soft” while eToys.com’s CEO Michael Wagner reported that recent sales were weaker than expected.

The industry is worried that parents’ frugality could derail holiday sales, which showed a meager increase last year after several years of declines. Toy sales were up 0.2 percent last year, according to the NPD Group Inc., a research company based in Port Washington, N.Y.
Clovis mom Bobbi Bettinger said the toy recall has provided her with the opportunity to clean house.

“My girls are old enough to know better than to put toys in their mouths,” she said. “But, their cousins who visit aren’t.” So, the 37-year-old mother and her three daughters, ages 10, 8 and 6, printed out the toy recall list and got to work cleaning out toy boxes. “We had lots of Dora (the Explorer) toys,” Bettinger said. “I bet I tossed out a a few dozen toys.”

But now that there is room in her daughter’s rooms doesn’t mean Bettinger is buying more toys for Christmas.

“I’ve bought more board games and dress up clothes,” she said. “I’m hoping to stimulate their imaginations.”

Employees and volunteers at the Salvation Army are checking donated toys against the recall list. According to Capt. Tammy Ray, approximately 50 toys have been dropped off to the nonprofit organization.

“The stores have been vigilant,” Ray said. “But we are watching.”

Bettinger said the toy recall gives parents the chance to discuss “commercialism” and the real meaning behind Christmas. “I wouldn’t call myself overly religious,” she said. “But our kids should know that Christmas doesn’t center around toys.”

On the ’Net

For the latest information on toy recalls, visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site at www.cpsc.gov