Popular jaZams Toy Store on Palmer Square Offers a Unique and Imaginative Selection
“JAZAMILY” TEAMWORK: “We’re a specialty toy store, with the focus on fun and quality. It’s an eclectic mix, with items to appeal to all ages — from babies and toddlers to teens and even young-at-heart adults!” Joanne Farrugia and Dean Smith (foreground), co-owners of jaZams toy store, are shown with members of the “jaZamily” team.
By Jean Stratton
JaZams is a magical store!
Nothing is more fun than a toy shop, and this one is filled with creativity, imagination, and colorful toys galore.
During its 25-year history, jaZams has earned an outstanding reputation and built a loyal, ever-expanding clientele.
Founder and co-owner Joanne Farrugia opened the store in the Montgomery Center in 1996, and moved to Palmer Square in 2000. It has been in its current location at 25 Palmer Square East since 2008.
An independently-owned store, it is facing the challenges so many brick-and-mortar establishments are coping with today. COVID-19 brought with it an onslaught of difficulties, but, even before that, online shopping competition was creating its own hurdles.
jaZams continues to prevail, however, and although it was closed from March to June due to COVID, it operated its online business with its website, and also established a busy curbside pick-up service.
“We were fortunate to keep busy then, and we also delivered within an 8-mile area (and still do),” reports Farrugia.
Customers began to come back into the store last summer, she adds, and they continue to support jaZams. “We have been so glad to see our customers in the store. We have relationships with them, and they have become friends. We are now even getting the second generation. The kids who used to come in have grown up, and now are having their own kids and bringing them here too.”
Of course, who wouldn’t want to have the fun of browsing in a toy store with Christmas approaching? There is truly something for everyone here, and once people come in, they don’t want to leave.
Games, puzzles, arts and crafts, Lego, Brio and Playmobil, books and blocks, chalk, crayons, and clay, baby dolls and bears, whistles and water pistols, kites and clocks — these are just some of the items on display.
In addition, shopping at jaZams is not only fun, it is convenient. A real plus is the easy access to all the different categories; the wide aisles make browsing — and buying — an enjoyable experience. One never feels crowded or hemmed in with too many items too close together.
Finding just the right toys, games, books, and novelties for jaZams’ customers keeps Farrugia and co-owner Dean Smith very busy. “Since our beginning, our mission has been two-fold,” they report. “First, we strive to offer a wide selection of quality, imaginative toys and books for all ages. To this end, we have traveled the world in search of the most beautifully designed and finely constructed products available.
“We’ve frequented toy fairs and gift shows to stay up to date on the newest and coolest items. Early this year, we went to Germany, which has the biggest toy show in the world. That was an exciting event!
“Along with our friends and families, we have personally tested nearly every item on our shelves. In an age of media saturation, it has been our hope that such a carefully selected array of creative, enriching, and fun toys and books will serve as a reminder to step away from the TV or computer screen.”
“Regarding our second goal, as a local independent retail store, we have aimed to strengthen and sustain our community. We have always stressed the importance of shopping locally in order to preserve healthy and functional neighborhoods, and we have built our business around human connection,” they said.
That human connection is visible at all times at the store. The welcoming and experienced staff is ready to help with information and advice about suitable toys for different ages and different interests.
As Farrugia says, “I think customers not only like our selection and choices, but they appreciate our incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff.”
Do you need something for a 2-year-old, 5-year-old, 8, 9, 10 and up? jaZams definitely has it!
Baby dolls and doll houses are fun for a range of ages, and Calico Critters, My Little Pony, and Felix the Cat all have their fans. Lots of little girls (and big ones!) have fun looking over the colorful jewelry selection at very affordable prices. Rattles, teethers, and bath toys are there for babies, and the plush collection of animals is hard to resist with cuddly kitties, puppies, and bunnies. And, for sure, kids of many ages still love to get their hands into fingerpaints, putty, and clay.
Puppets and paper dolls are wonderful for all those creative “pretend” moments, and stickers and coloring books can always tell special stories. Toy cars, trucks, trains, and planes are there for young travelers, and fun scooters are available for self-propelled locomotion. Ukuleles and music boxes are on hand for musicians who like to play a tune and for those who just want to listen.
In this digital age of high tech devices, certain “non-tech” items continue to stand the test of time. Kites still fly, kids still jump rope, Slinkys still slide down the stairs, those high-bouncing stickball pink Spaldeens never stop bouncing, and Frisbees are tossed again and again.
Monopoly, Clue, and Scrabble never go out of style, and the big news is that puzzles have never been more popular.
“There has been a dramatic rise in our puzzle sales since the virus — up 700 percent since last year,” reports Dean Smith. “They are fun for families to do together, and we have all kinds — everything from six-piece wooden puzzles for the youngest kids up to 18,000 pieces.”
Many people select 500- or 1,000-piece versions, but there is really something for everyone, he says, adding that special storage methods for puzzles to keep them intact from curious kitties (or other “wildlife”) are available, as well as and glue so the puzzle can be kept after it’s put together.
Magic and chemistry sets are there for future magicians and scientists, and a series of games include subjects like wind power, atoms, rocks and gems, the solar system and planets, among others, to challenge the curiosity of young minds.
Robotics and STEM-related items appeal to the older kids, and there are also retro electronics, such as little video arcades.
“Anything related to Star Wars is still very big,” says Farrugia, “and we have a great selection of miscellany, from animal pendulum clocks and colorful umbrellas with animal handles to lots of stocking stuffers.”
As she points out, tiny Rubik Cubes, squishy stress-relieving “snow balls,” playing cards, and little ornaments are fun additions to all those “stockings hung with care,” especially this year, when we need more fun than ever.
Books are available and still read — by all ages — at jaZams. Holiday titles such as ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Polar Express, and classics such as Good Night Moon, Winnie the Pooh, The Velveteen Rabbit, Paddington Bear, A Child’s Garden of Verses, Charlotte’s Web, and Stuart Little, and new ones such as A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood transport readers to new adventures. Animal lovers won’t be able to resist All Creatures Great and Small.
A very popular addition to the book section is the selection of graphic novels, says Farrugia. “These are in a comic book format, like comic books — novels with illustrations. They are very, very popular now, and have really taken over for a variety of ages, from 5 and up.”
Prices cover a very wide range at jaZams, from $1 to $1,000, and everything in between. There is really a toy and a price for every pocketbook. Gift cards and gift wrapping are also available.
The store has been and continues to be a labor of love for Farrugia. “I love being with the kids and helping pick out the perfect toy. I think imagination and the importance of play is more important now than ever.
“Of course, working with the staff is a big pleasure. We’ve had wonderful high school kids who have worked here, and one, now graduated from college, came back recently and said, ‘It was a dream job!’”
Adds Dean Smith, “We’ve had former employees and kids come back and tell us about things that had meant so much to them during their time at the store and that had shaped their lives. It really shows how transformative play can be.”
Farrugia and Smith look forward to continuing to offer jaZam’s special toys for years to come, and they are encouraged as they meet the challenges of COVID, and also as they remain committed to their place in the community as an independently-owned and operated store.
“This is more than just a job. This is the community we live in, and we are very much a part of it. And our customers mean so much to us. We know many of them by name, and take pride in the highly personal and happy shopping experience that jaZams provides.”
The store is open Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday 12 to 6 p.m. It offers curbside and delivery service. (609) 924-8697. Website: jazams.com.