Finding creative possibilities in challenging times.

Credit: Eilon Paz

Finding ways to stay playful during COVID-19 isn’t easy. 

Eight months in and with winter months looming ahead, parents all over the place (and especially in cities like New York, with notoriously little space), are scrambling to find ways to keep their families safe and entertained. 

But where should they go? 

In challenging times, it is imperative that we be as creative as possible, seeking innovation in areas that we might not normally think are primed for innovation. 

Like, for instance, a toy store. 

Close your eyes and imagine a toy store. What do you see? Probably long aisles, stuffed to the gills with boxes. It’s dusty, cramped, and stressful. At best, it allows you to buy something that you can have fun with somewhere else. 

At Toyish, we figured it was probably time to present the world with a seriously-updated reimagining of what a toy store can–and should–offer during these stressful times. 

Welcome to our Clixo toy store and play lab in Clinton Hill, where design and creativity play together. 

Why we turned a retail space into a learning lab

Throughout the development of Clixo, fostering a constant dialogue with our community has been our number one priority. From the very beginning of R&D for Clixo to the current day, we have been talking with parents and kids, testing out ideas, and listening to feedback. Instead of running a focus group once every year or two, we have a constant, active focus group. 

This is indicative of a fundamentally different structure we operate under. We don’t design in a top-down vacuum. There isn’t a chasm between us as ‘creators’ and our community as ‘consumers.’ Instead, we see all of the Clixo family as active participants in a symbiotic design loop. Most importantly, we think that addressing kids from ‘above’ as designers who are trying to teach and effectively corral children into adulthood is a bad approach. Children naturally have wells of artistic talent–our job isn’t to shape it, but to give them the tools to shape in themselves, and to observe that process as a key part of our R&D. 

That’s why we decided to launch a hybrid design-play space in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of New York that is being hailed as “the perfect place for creative kids.”

What we love so much about this moniker is that it gets to the heart of what we are doing: our primary goal is to foster a safe, creative play space. 

Selling Clixo is secondary to that goal. 

In fact, you are hard pressed to find any packaged toys for sale upon entering the store. As an open and airy space that utilizes Clixo’s magnetic feature to vertically integrate the pieces, children are primarily invited to come be creators and showcase their creations. If a visitor decides to buy a Clixo product, that in and of itself is turned into a creative adventure– the packaged Clixo products are hidden in the hood of the car!

Credit: Tiffany Qua

Everything about the creative journey throughout our space, from entry to exit, has been reimagined. In a time when there are strict limits on hours and accommodation of visitors, we’ve done things like design a magic doorbell, so that if children ring the bell at a time when they aren’t able to come in, the car in the shop lights up and makes noises, prompting joy and creativity in the child, even from the outside. 

Part of the reason we are so committed to prioritizing a safe and innovative play space over selling our product is–counter-intuitively–for selfish reasons. As I said above, Clixo isn’t a static product. We absolutely believe that it is through constantly learning from the broader Clixo family that we are able to iteratively create the best toy. For us, the best toy is one that can bring the most joy and creativity to the children of today, blessed with their unique capacities and faced with their unique challenges. 

We are interested in fostering and optimizing creativity long term, not in getting rich quick. That’s why we turned a retail space into a learning lab. 

What it means to open a space during a pandemic

First off, any space that is operating during a global pandemic needs to take on the social responsibility that comes with that. We are very proud and confident in the measures we are have taken, which include:

  • We are limiting people in the store to 1 family at a time to allow each family time to play in a safe environment.
  • One of our key product features is how easy it is to clean the products. We spray these with a 70% isopropyl solution that not only cleans but disinfects the pieces.
  • We have a strict masks-required policy, temperature checks, and have everyone sanitize their hands as they enter the store. We also have three sinks with soaps in the space that kids can use if needed.
  • There are two doors in the toy store and they are completely open to maximize air flow and minimize the viral load in the space. In the winter, the doors will be opened every 20-30 minutes to ensure that there’s enough aeration.
  • We have an advanced air filtration system in place for when the doors are closed.
  • We are continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation in New York, which still boasts one of the lowest rates compared to other states, and review our policies on a daily basis to ensure that we are complying with the state’s rules and being as safe as we possibly can. 
Credit: Assaf Eshet

Like everything we do, we thought long and hard about how we could safely provide what our community so desperately needs (a fun playspace) during such a challenging time. 

While we feel an acute responsibility to be as safe about COVID-19 as possible, we also feel a legitimate responsibility to help support parents and children. Being stuck in the same apartment space day after day, month after month, is a profoundly stressful and limiting experience. 

Because thinking about how play integrates with spaces is so integral to our design (Clixo is lightweight, stackable, doesn’t require a flat surface to build with, and integrates easily with diverse environments), failing to provide an innovative space to our community would have felt truly disingenuous to our mission. 

Credit: Tiffany Qua
Credit: Assaf Eshet

I also think it is important to remember that for better or worse, even during a pandemic, the world spins madly on. Time is passing, and children need to learn and grow in one capacity or another. Helping to open up our community’s world even a little bit can go a long way. 

Our design-play space opened on Monday, November 9, 2020, and we have been overwhelmed by the appreciation and gratitude we have received from parents. 

Yael Magnes, a mother of two who lives in the neighborhood, wrote us to say, “We are so lucky to have such a lively toy store open in our neighborhood, especially during this time when a pandemic is changing the rules of the game. It’s not simply a toy store, it’s a creative space that teaches children and grownups alike to think out of the box, and be creative in any circumstance we are in.  And it’s a space that can create community – that is what upper middle class family’s need to learn to depend on – community. As for safety, Clixo’s measure make me feel it is as safe as can be at this point in time. For me it also feels like home…thank you for making me feel more at home!”

We couldn’t agree more with Yael. Now more than ever is the time to prioritize community and creativity. So if you live in NYC and you’re looking for some safe playtime, swing by our learning lab! We’d love to have you. 

Keep safe and playful!
Assaf

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