All it takes is a New York minute for everything to transform, yet one small business on the Upper East Side remains unfazed in the wake of the city’s ever-changing ways.
Since 1931, Mary Arnold Toys has provided the community with a wide selection of games, dolls and other goodies that all generations find equally swoon-worthy. Such an accomplishment has resulted in the title of the oldest toy store in NYC (behind FAO Schwarz). Though the shop has moved uptown along Lexington Ave since its inception—and changed hands since its founding—one aspect of the business remains consistent.
“Kids always want to go to the toy store,” says owner Ezra Ishayik. He and his brother bought the business in the early '80s, relocating Mary Arnold Toys to its current outpost between 80 and 81st Streets. What began as a small family operation has become a linchpin of a quaint NYC shopping experience.
“It’s totally different than what you’re getting online,” says Judy Ishayik, who transitioned from a teaching position to working alongside her father back in 2008. “You get to engage with kids, you get to see what they are attracted to, what they are interested in, what section they gravitate toward.”
You'll find endless toy options at Mary Arnold's. From the must-have craze (think Harry Potter-inspired LEGO sets) to nostalgic pieces (such as the smiling rotary phone from Fisher-Price, circa 1960s), the small shop doesn’t miss a trick. It caters to all interests—arts and crafts, construction, science and even literature, as it provides pint-size patrons with a reading area. Though tykes might gravitate toward new characters and trendy picks, tween-age patrons will be happy to know that their favorite childhood books and old-school items such as Silly Putty and building blocks are at the ready.
In order to deliver on its one-stop-shop ambitions, Mary Arnold Toys has decided to go beyond a diverse selection, delivery availability and gift wrapping options. It encourages families to return, generation after generation by keeping a friendly rapport. “[Customers] stop in after school on Fridays, they grab a birthday present for the weekend, so we’re seeing these people all the time—we’re friends,” Judy says.
Though the inventory is certainly alluring—especially to kiddos—stuffed animals and action figures aren’t the only reason to make a pitstop.
“We want our customers to know, ‘Mary Arnold has an event on Saturday. There’s something going on, why don’t we go stop in?’ she adds. “I think we’re trying to keep [events] in mind and give back to our customers who are so appreciative to have us here.”
She and her father have implemented an interactive component to the shop, making it not only a great place to buy a gift, but a go-to activity destination for the neighborhood’s youngest residents. There are LEGO builds, story times, arts and crafts projects and other events throughout the week.
As manufacturers change, stores come and go, and children fall in love with new characters, Mary Arnold plans to be there for it all, not just as a shopping destination, but a neighborhood staple.
“We’re watching kids grow and it really is something special,” Judy says of the business. “We want to keep it going for as long as we can.”
After you visit the oldest toy store in NYC, be sure to explore the other amazing toy stores NYC has to offer and round out your shopping spree with a cone from one of the many delicious ice cream shops or sweets from these candy stores.