For Carol Van De Hoef, the best part of owning a toy store is working with her top-notch employees—and greeting the parents and grandparents who stop in to find gifts for their children and grandchildren.
"So many people come in and say, 'You have things that are different,'" said Van De Hoef.
"It's nice, too, because we have some of the same toys (the parents and grandparents) had when they were little," added spokeswoman Rachel Bailey.
There are lots of interesting and unique toys and games to be found at Snickelfritz Toys, which is located on the lower level of Westfield Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills, just outside of the JC Penney store.
It is the company's sole store, aside from its online store.
Van De Hoef opened the store as Bookids in 1991 and changed the name to Snickelfritz Toys in 2004. She also previously operated a franchise Lemstone Books, which was located in the mall.
What Snickelfritz offers in addition to its large variety of specialty toys is its customer service.
"We have employees who are knowledgeable," said Van De Hoef.
"We'll ask questions and help you find the gift that is just right," added Bailey. "We've tried out all of the games and can tell you how they work."
Bailey demonstrated just that, hopping on a Spooner Board to show how to move around on one of the most popular items this holiday season. Bailey described the Spooner Board as a cross between a skateboard, surfboard and snowboard that's geared toward ages 3 and up. It can be used on a variety of surfaces, including snow and grass.
"We have a video on it to show you what to do with it," said Bailey.
Other popular items at Snickelfritz include the Calico Critters line and a variety of train-themed items from BRIO and Thomas the Train. The BRIO line recently returned to the market, Van De Hoef said.
"Adults like it because they used to have it when they were kids," she said.
Bailey said her favorite items at Snickelfritz can be found in the science section. She got her love of science from her dad, who taught Earth science at Libertyville High School. The science items at the store are for ages 4 and up.
The top science-themed product is the Snap Circuits Light, said Van De Hoef. Bailey said children can build the educational item and then hook it up to an iPod.
"It lights up and it's wonderful," said Van De Hoef.
There are plenty of craft items to be found at Snickelfritz, including the Sticky Mosaics line. Van De Hoef said it's like a Paint By Numbers activity that uses stickers instead of paint. The Alex line offers kits that allow children to make items like totes and bangles with various colors of Duct Tape.
For little hands, there are items like the Green Toys Inc. line, featuring toys made out of recycled milk jugs.
"They're food-safe, so kids can play with them and eat out of them," said Bailey, referring to the line's plates and bowls.
The store offers its customers a couple of added conveniences. If a shopper buys an item on the store's website, he or she can pick it up at the store in the mall, Bailey said. Customers can also have their purchases wrapped for free.
"Santa's gifts can look completely different," said Bailey.
Black Friday Deal
Customers can get a special deal on their gifts during the store's Black Friday hours. From midnight to 5 a.m. Nov. 23, customers will save 20 percent on items storewide, according the the Snickelfritz Toys Facebook page.