Joy in Toys


Photographs by Martha Busse

Remember how toys used to be? Things like kitchen playsets, blocks and puzzles were standbys of youth, and kids used their imaginations—not blinking lights, sound effects and cartoon characters—to rev up playtime.

Walk into Milanie Cleere’s toy store Oompa in Middleton and that’s just what you’ll get: toys sans all of the above distractions. Instead you’ll find playthings that are colorful, well-made and, dare I say, beautiful.

“I’d rather have fewer toys of higher quality in my home than junk that I’ll throw away in a year,” explains Cleere, who’s a mom herself.

Previously, Cleere worked in graphic design and programming but had never operated a retail store. With her web experience combined with her husband’s financial expertise the two developed Oompa.com in 2004, an online store carrying toys for kids from birth up to six years. The site exploded in popularity (blogs on everything from parenting to contemporary design tout Oompa’s toys). Amazingly, Oompa’s only brick-and-mortar storefront is in Middleton, and it opened in November. Cleere and her family moved from Santa Monica a year and a half ago.

Cleere won’t carry vendors that don’t allow her to visit their facilities. She only sells toys with, as she puts it, “fantastic design and quality.” And no plastic toys are carried unless they’re proven to be safe. The rest of the products are primarily made in western European countries. Parents might recognize brands like Ecotots, Jellycat, HABA and Brio. She also carries a few organic toys and hopes to add more.

If parents want a good idea of what the hot sellers are online, they need look no further than the store, which carries the “greatest hits” of Oompa.com. Also check out the whimsical children’s room décor (think Century House for the young set) as well as stylish strollers and diaper bags for fashionable parents.

After all, just because Junior can’t say the whole alphabet yet doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a little style in his life, too.

Oompa

Price range: $9.99–$1,400

Owner’s Picks: Djeco dog puzzle for preschoolers, $15.99; Fleurville “Rerun” messenger bag made of eco-friendly materials, $74.99; HABA Blossom Sky tent, $189.99; blabla “Buzzbuzz” wool/cotton doll, $43.99.

Editor’s Picks: Dwell Baby room décor and furniture, $24–$1,400; boodaloo sheet sets, $109.99; Pkolino silly soft animal seating, $59.99; Skip Hop diaper bag, $149.99.

Verdict: Oompa’s well-edited selection of toys is not only practical (many of which are either eco-friendly, educational or organic offerings) but the fanciful, colorful items are worthy of hip kids and parents—and most are affordable, too.

Oompa, 1970 Caygua St. 831-4880. oompa.com

* Read Miller's Window Shopping blog »

Shayna Miller is associate and style editor of Madison Magazine.

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