All Posts By

Chris Nierhaus

The Perfect Gift For Every Kid: The Robot Garage, Adventures In Toys, Lil Rascals

By | Wantify Blog

Clothes, toys, and fun memberships…here are some of our favorite holiday gift picks for kids from Birmingham’s The Robot Garage, Adventures in Toys, and Lil Rascals.
I love everything about giving gifts — from finding just the right thing, to choosing the wrapping, and finally seeing the surprise and joy on the recipient’s face. This time of year there areplenty of opportunities to lavish gifts upon our friends and family, especially all the little ones in our lives. In fact, I spent my entire weekend flitting gleefully around town selecting the perfect gifts for all the kids on my list from some of my favorite shops in the Detroit area.
The Robot Garage
637 S. Eton, Birmingham, Michigan. Hours: Tuesday – Friday 11:00am to 6:30pm, Saturday 9:00am to 6:30pm, Sunday 12pm to 5pm

Not all gifts have to be wrappable! Consider giving an engineering and robotics experience. I first visited The Robot Garage with my kids for a birthday party, and it’s awesome.

Kids (and adults!) can build anything and everything they can imagine with the massive quantity and variety of Legos provided. You can even incorporate robotics into your design and use computers to set it into motion. If your little one put their heart and soul into their project, they can take it home! Simply weigh their creation and pay per pound.

Consider gifting drop-in hours for Lego-building and playing with robots, $8 per child for up to two hours. Or give a series of organized class sessions or a holiday three-day camp. Projects and prices vary by age group. Memberships are also available and include free drop-in hours and discounts on classes. If you think your kids will want to spend every rainy Saturday here, a membership is the way to go.

If you want to give your child a gift for under the tree, The Robot Garage can help there too. Choose from a comprehensive selection of Lego kits and Duplo blocks, and a range of other science and engineering toys. Some of the most popular gifts this year include Hoberman spheres and Crazy Aaron’s putty. I particularly love all the DIY kits. In my experience, when the kids have a hand in building their own toys, they tend to be a little more careful with them. And learning while playing is always a win-win!

Adventures In Toys
250 W. Maple, Birmingham, Michigan. Hours: Monday – Saturday 10am to 6pm, Sunday 11:30am – 5:00pm

Walking into this shop is like stepping back into the good old days. The vintage tile floor and the hand-painted mural behind the counter remind me of everything I loved about my childhood toy store. From presentation to service, there’s a real focus on quality in every aspect of Adventures in Toys.

Toys are displayed from floor to ceiling, and they run the gamut from dollhouses to science kits to a wonderful selection of Thomas trains and accessories. They also carry Melissa & Doug, which has long been a favorite brand of mine because of the traditional feel and high quality pieces. Here you’ll find their costumes, puzzles and wooden play sets, and an awesome puppet theater and workbench, which I picked up (assembled for free!) for my daughter.

Adventures in Toys also has a fun five-and-dime-type section with gag gifts and trinkets that make great stocking stuffers. A nook toward the back of the store houses gifts for your budding scientist: microscopes, crystal-growing kits, telescopes, and more.

There are toys to play with quietly indoors and raucously outdoors. There are books and stuffed animals. There are art supplies and musical instruments. There’s a ton of stuff for babies.

You can even call ahead, drive your car up to the back door and collect your purchases. Gift–wrapping is free and so is assembly — just give them a day’s notice. You’ll find plenty of options for everyone on your list here. And, you’ll get it all with some of the best service in town.

Lil Rascals
580 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham, Michigan. Hours: Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm; Sunday 9am to 3pm (May to October only)

When I want my gift to really stand out, I head to Lil Rascals. This sweet little boutique carries a wonderful selection of assorted gifts, from books and toys to clothes and accessories. It’s the kind of place where you’ll want one of everything.

Lil Rascals carries a unique line of comfy and cool clothes for babies, toddlers and young children. Anyone who’s shopped for clothing for toddler boys knows there’s not much variety out there, but that’s not the case here. I picked up an ‘80s-style t-shirt and superhero belt for my son.

For girls, go for a classic look, like a tweed dress paired with a mini Chanel-style purse and a dainty bracelet. Or for an edgier look, like my daughter prefers, snag a rock-n-roll t-shirt and colorful lamé leggings.

I also head here for keepsake gifts like personalized birth info blankets and embroidered onesies. I love that although this shop has a more upscale vibe than a typical toy store, kids are welcomed as much as their parents.

No matter who’s on your gift list and what’s on their wish list, you’ll find everything you want this holiday season right here in Birmingham. Even better…shopping locally creates local jobs, supports area causes, and reinvests money in our community. And those are the gifts that give to all of us year-round!

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Confessions of a Shop Local Fanatic: Why I Heart Local

By | Wantify Blog

Why shop local? It’s not because I think I’m doing my local stores a big favor. It’s just the opposite — it’s about what these local businesses provide us as a community. (But, it’s also where I find all the best stuff!)

I’ve always had this thing for shop local. I get really excited by what I might discover in little independent stores. I’ve been a self-professed lover of local since before I even knew there was a name for it. Then I discovered there were labels for people like me…localist, locavore. Were they a bit silly? I didn’t care. I felt validated. I bought the t-shirt.

I used to shop locally purely for enjoyment, leisurely browsing our city’s little stores for unusual finds. I still love my local stores, but these days I shop them differently. With two kids in tow, I need to get in and out quickly…before the 4-year old breaks something, or the 1-year-old leaves a sticky trail of residue behind. Small business owners seem to recognize my predicament, and give us the attentive and personalized customer service a busy mom needs. (Or maybe they, too, realize it’s better for all if it’s a quick transaction?)

But, it’s not just about being fawned over by a conscientious shop owner. (Although, I do sorta love that.)

Buying local is also a conscious decision to support my community businesses because I really can’t imagine our lives without them.

But, I admit — I don’t shop local all of the time. Nothing is ever all black or all white, is it? Still, I try to choose local first whenever I can. And, here’s why…

WHY SHOP LOCAL ANYWAY?

There are countless online sources that can give you the facts about why shopping locally is so important for our communities and our local economies, so I won’t go there. (But, you can read up on shop local statistics here or here or even here.) For me this next little story illustrates those statistics so much better.

Recently I congratulated a neighborhood shop owner on the opening of his second store. He confessed he was lucky to get the new retail space for a song. And, then he shared that, despite steady sales, he wasn’t really making a profit. “This is definitely a labor of love,” he said. “If I had a family, I couldn’t afford to stay open.”

He then told me about another business I knew that had recently closed despite a regular stream of customers. “Without his wife’s job, they couldn’t have stayed open as long as they did. He finally closed up shop when he got a job offer he couldn’t pass up.”

These admissions stopped me in my tracks and quickly dissolved any romantic notions I had about owning my own little shop: Is owning a local retail business only for those without dependents? Or those who are dependent themselves?

Yes, you can argue that’s business. You can tell me things have changed, and perhaps the small businesses just can’t keep up with the online businesses. And, that all may be true. Yet this is also true: Online businesses are simply selling us a product. Once you click the submit payment button, the relationship ends. But, our small local businesses give us so much more than just the books or clothes or coffee they sell us — they give us experiences that help shape our lives. As a community, we need these local businesses.

LOCAL BUSINESSES ARE WORTH MUCH MORE THAN WHAT THEY SELL 

I think about my favorite local shops and the experiences we would miss if they closed their doors: Where would I take my kids for story time if that bookstore closed? Where would we go for an ice cream treat after a fun afternoon playing in the park? Where would I catch up on work if that coffee shop was gone?

Because these local businesses don’t just sell us things — they provide us with gathering places and sense of community.

When you shop local, you’re not just paying for the item you bring home. You’re also paying for an experience. And, that experience doesn’t end once you leave the shop.

Our community businesses create a vibrant, lively atmosphere that we enjoy regularly — and it’s not something we always pay for. Yes, we eat at our neighborhood restaurants, drink at our neighborhood bars, hang out at our neighborhood coffee shops, and buy from our neighborhood retailers. But, we also go to free events sponsored by the community businesses…monthly art walks and seasonal celebrations.

And, I know it’s not just my neighborhood. For every neighborhood where local businesses and neighbors co-exist, you’ll find this symbiotic relationship.

SHIFTING OUR SHOPPING HABITS: SMALL CHANGES MAKE A DIFFERENCE 

Sometimes I feel a little sheepish if I run into someone in a big-box store, especially if they know my stance on shopping locally. But, I can’t always find what I need at the neighborhood shops. And, I have to tell myself that’s okay. I shop local as often as I can, and every bit matters.

But, it’s not just a rationalization…there’s data to back me up! A movement became popular a few years back called the 3/50 Project. You pick three local businesses you’d miss if they were no longer around, and spend at least $50 in those shops every month. That’s less than $17 per store, which seems pretty reasonable.

We’re not talking about $50 in additional purchases, either — just what you are already consuming each month. You could easily spend that at your hardware store, your bookstore, and your corner grocer.

Here’s the kicker: If only half the working population did this each month, it would generate more than $40 billion in revenue. And, because that revenue is locally spent dollars, it is four times as likely to stay in the community and be spent at other businesses.

Okay, I confess that I haven’t personally worked out the math on the $40 billion. (I mean, who am I kidding? I was an English major.) But the concept is intriguing: Can spending just $50 a month keep alive the amazing businesses that enliven our neighborhoods and add so much to our lives? I sure hope so.

So, I try to support our local businesses whenever I can — even if it’s not 100 percent of the time. And, yes, sometimes I pay more than I would at the big-box or online stores. But, I happily pay that. I think of it as an investment in our community…because what we get back in return is worth so much more.

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