Finding Space for Childhood Creativity

By: Marlene Lewis

In this guest post, toy store owner Marlene Lewis explains why you won’t find any commercial characters or battery-powered toys at Sunshine Sam in Bloomfield, NJ.

I read the recent toy-related article in the New York Times with great interest. “Hitching a Toy to a Star” resonated with me because it addressed a large part of why I opened my battery-free and non-commercial toy and gift store, Sunshine Sam.

Since opening my store, I’ve often been asked the seemingly simple, but actually very complicated question, “Why bother?” Many people wonder, “Do you have something against Mickey Mouse?” The answer is NO! Not at all! I also have nothing against Frozen, Toy Story, or Star Wars. In fact, I have the utmost respect for those who compose the scores, write the script, and develop the characters frame by frame. They are incredibly talented and creative. But when the characters jump off the big screen and onto every shelf in a toy store, it feels less creative and more like our children’s imaginations are for sale.

I want our children to be just as creative as the brilliant minds behind the scenes of these masterpieces. I don’t want the parts of their brains that tell them they can build anything or create something without step-by-step instructions to shrivel up. I want children to be inspired by the wonderful characters they see on screens to create their own magical worlds, and it feels like it’s gone too far. It feels like we have pigeon-holed our children’s roles and creativity into just a few roles and labels.

My son played with lots of toys based on Thomas and Toy Story for a long time. He has electronics, and loves to be inspired by films as well. But it’s a balance that I think is really important. Toys and games without huge budgets fueled by large companies are drowned out when placards and demos and flashing lights draw attention away.

And that’s why Sunshine Sam is the way it is. My goal in opening a non-commercial and battery-free toy store is to provide a place to block out the commercial noise and hopefully inspire children to act silly, create with their own imaginations, and be their own super heroes. Yes! Superman is great, but I bet your child is even greater! 

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