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Playing welcome in this toy store

By Sally Voth - svoth@nvdaily.com

Aaron Bowman talked about his new business in Kernstown while a large fish floated by, a helicopter hovered, boomerangs and foam rockets flew through the air and a child zipped around on a PlasmaCar.

Bowman, 29, opened Thinker Toys in Creekside Station about two months ago.

A play on Tinkertoys, Thinker Toys carries toys for everyone from babies to grown ups.

Bowman sells Melissa & Doug products, including play money, puzzles, dollhouses, stables, play food, tool kits, instruments and art kits; Schleich Animals; games; science experiments; various rockets; a large variety of puzzles and puppets; art supplies; crafts; classics such as Slinkys, yo-yos, sea monkeys and, of course, tinkertoys; tea sets, dump trucks, blocks and indoor gardening kits by green toys, and many other toys.

"Everything [green toys] make is made from recycled milk jugs," Bowman explained. "It's safe. It's very green, and it's quality. It's all made in the U.S. It's got a lot going for it."

Bowman is a second-generation toy peddler. His father has had a toy store, Crafty Hands Toyland, in the Dayton Farmers Market for more than 20 years.

"I kind of grew up in a specialty toy store like this, kind of a toy tester growing up," Bowman said. "[I've] got 20 years of what's good and what's not."

And, while Bowman can spend a good portion of his days playing, that wasn't always the case. A computer science major, he worked as a programmer in Northern Virginia for a few years.

"It was too busy, too much traffic," Bowman said. "I needed mountains and rivers and trees and just not the office environment."

After a trip to a nearby dentist, Nichole Hinderer and her three children wandered into Thinker Toys recently. After a demo by Bowman on the PlasmaCar - which is powered by the steering wheel and can hold 220 pounds - Sydney, 7, took it for a spin.

Hinderer, from Berryville, hadn't even known the store was in the shopping center.

"It's pretty cool," she said. "We're going to definitely pick something out. I definitely like quality toys. It's worth it."

While 4-year-old Jack wanted to get a remote-controlled futuristic motorcycle, his brother, Luke, 10, was more interested in the remote-controlled helicopter.

"I think it's pretty good," Luke said of the store. "I like how, like, the stuff works."

With its open spaces and wooden floors, and with "tester" toys on the shelves, Thinker Toys invites kids of all sizes to play. A parent can come in and test out a toy before buying, or bring a child in to see what the youngster gravitates to, Bowman said.

"It's a little more like an activity center in here versus just shopping," he said. "It's quality toys. It's educational. It's a lot of toys you probably haven't seen."

He hesitates to say he spends all his time playing.

"I 'demonstrate' things - but, yeah, I play all day," Bowman said. "I play whenever there's somebody in here."

Thinker Toys is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. For more information, visit www.thinkertoysva.com.

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