Child's Play

Playthings at Hilldale tempts kids (and adults) with fun, educational and creative toys


702 N. Midvale Blvd. 

Remember Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Chocolate rivers and lollipops as far as the eye could see tempted children and their parents to nibble on sweet treats in the candy factory. Playthings at Hilldale Mall tempts kids and parents just like old Wonka—but replace the sugary delights with fun, educational and creative toys.

Owner Nancy Nigl opened the store on the north side of Madison twenty-seven years ago and migrated to Hilldale about nineteen years ago. Their location next to University Book Store is chock-full of clothing, board and card games, figurines, toys and fanciful dress-up outfits. Daughter-in-law Kelly Nigl manages the store and says their aim is to carry “things you can’t find at big-box stores. We really trust the companies we buy from that have good quality products.”

Kelly says trains and dolls were the mainstays of the business back when it started—but now what delights shoppers are Haba wooden toys, Ravensburger puzzles and Manhattan Toy’s baby playthings. In addition to their unique product mix, Kelly says they’re carrying more eco-friendly items.

And Playthings’ 5,000 square feet doesn’t feel overwhelming. Rather, it welcomes families with a caring and friendly staff. “It’s why people come here—we can give recommendations for children of every age.”

Clockwise from top left:

1) Game Time
Whoozit toys are educational playthings for the youngest of tots. Wild colors and visual stimulation offer kids hours of fun. $15–$26

2) Family Affair
Nancy opened the store when her oldest son was two years old, says Kelly. “She was looking for high-quality toys and was having a hard time finding that.” Enter the idea for Playthings. Kelly joined the family when she married Nancy’s younger son five years ago, and she started managing Playthings the same year.

3) Style Stars
Dress up the little ones in your life in duds by Zutano, Tea Collection and Hatley. Onesies, tops, bottoms, rain jackets and even rainboots are super-stylish togs that you won’t find anywhere else. $10–$38

4) Entertainment Tonight
There’s nothing cozier than a night in with family. Pick up a card or board game to facilitate the fun. $6–$42

5) Rowdy Ride
These adorable Rody horses are inflatable fun rides for kids up to age three. $54

6) Wheely Cool
Nigl says tots love Wheely Bugs—available in a variety of critters from pigs to frogs. $75–$85

7) Handmade Heaven
Artterro’s craft kits are wonderful ways for kids to get crafty and, bonus, the company is from Madison! Find jewelry, bookmaking, doll and “creativity” kits by the philanthropic company. $20–$25

Contact Shayna Mace at

Photos by Martha Busse.



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