Toy Expert Helps Solve Gift-Giving Guessing Game

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Shopping for holiday gifts for children can be a joy or a nightmare for a parent, grandparent or anyone who's concerned about quality and safety.

But don't worry; help is right around the corner.

Fran Yates, owner of Rim Country Kids toy store in the Swiss Village shops, has stocked her shelves with toys, games, crafts and collectibles carefully selected for their workmanship, educational value and safety.

But it's the personalized service and expertise that Yates provides that keeps customers such as Joan McCall, a Payson grandmother who's always on the lookout for unique, educational gifts for her grandchildren, coming back for more.

Yates has a remarkable memory, McCall said.

"My daughter had asked about a book, 'Lily's Purple Plas-tic Purse,' when she was here last summer, and Mrs. Yates reminded me just today that she now has that book," she said.

Yates' expertise in the toy industry is no accident. She taught special education classes in first and second grades for 13 years in Massachusetts. Then she worked as a sales representative for Scholastic Books and Western Publishing Company, known for Golden Books, puzzles and games. Later, she ran a book and toy store in Florida. After moving to Payson in 1993, she worked again as a sales representative for 20 specialty toys in Arizona and New Mexico.

Although she prides herself in remembering customer interests, Yates said it will become much easier in January, when the store is moved to the new Sawmill Crossing center off the Beeline Highway and Main Street.

"The new store will be fully computerized (and) larger with more display space," she said.

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, writing in "Creative Child" magazine, suggests that people who are buying gifts for children this season ask themselves a few basic questions, such as:

Is the gift safe? Does it have sharp edges or other dangers? Does it have a guarantee? Is it fun and enticing? Is it durable? Is it environmentally sound? Is it creative and nurturing? Will it frustrate or challenge the child? Can it be cleaned? Does it teach? Does the price match the quality? Is it affordable?

"We encourage parents and grandparents to give a child every experience they can, whether it's a toy or reading to them," Yates said. "We offer a lot of open-ended toys that can be enjoyed by the child on various levels according to their age. We urge people not to get a toy that's too advanced for the child, assuming he or she will grow into it. By the time that happens, the child thinks of it as an old toy and isn't interested."

The store is stocked with hundreds of items, including such collectibles as the Madame Alexander dolls, which, Yates said, have been around for 77 years. Among the most popular are the characters from "The Wizard of Oz."

The store also has a large selection of the lifelike Lee Middleton dolls and the quality Carolle play dolls with an assortment of machine-washable clothes. Other collectibles include Steiff bears, Muffy Vander bears, Ty Beanie Babies and authentic Caterpillar trucks.

The store also has science toys, crafts, musical toys, games, puzzles, model cars, planes, trucks and trains and a variety of other toys.

"We are constantly adding more things for older children, too, such as beaded curtains and lava lamps for their rooms, which are currently popular," Yates said.

Yates and her husband, George, opened Rim Country Kids in 1995 with 800 square feet of space, later expanding to 1,600. The store's new location will be about 2,000 square feet, Yates said.

"We'll be expanding gifts for older children and teens, as well as adding gifts for adults," she said. "We're currently taking a customer survey for ideas. We're excited to be part of something new and forward-looking in the community."

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