“Need it Now: Enchanted Endeavor”
by Stephanie LaCava, edited by Virginia Tupker
Imagine tiny, moss-covered dwellings with stone pebble paths, little wooden chimneys, small twig-lined doors, and entranceways that would fit only a fairy. This is the magical window scene that greets one at the new Tribeca store Playing Mantis. Enter the shop and take in the fantastical offerings set up atop wood-grain shelves growing into the mural-painted exposed-brick walls. Here are a family of stuffed hedgehogs, homespun bunnies outfitted in capes, teddy bears made of discarded fur coats, woolen gloves and other sundry surprises.
Such whimsical gifts are to be found throughout the downtown outpost (there is a Playing Mantis in Nyack, NY, as well), part wonder emporium, part eco-friendly toy shop. “One hundred percent of our offerings don’t require batteries. These are imagination-powered toys,” says owner Imelda McCain of her endless sustainable offerings: dolls from Argentina and Peru; stuffed toys from Kenya; yo-yos from Austria; musical instruments from Sweden and Hungary; and an assortment of puzzles and playthings from American vendors (the window display features hobbit houses from Oregon-based Fairy Woodland). The idea for the shops came from McCain’s son Lucas as she helped him create objects from the natural world around him. “We would take a twig and add a felt hat, and suddenly it became a gnome,” she explains. “At a young age, he saw what was available around him to create things and became closer to nature in this way.” McCain graciously explains that you can make on your own most of what she sells at Playing Mantis—and she will even show you how. Her shopkeeper ethos is based on understanding the importance of origin and the process of creation. “If people know how things are created, they have a more balanced view of everything.” In this way, the store is less about commercial endeavor, more about community. “Nothing was planned; one person I met led to another. Selling handcrafted items is the most sensible way to do business. I can take my son to craft shows and the store—to learn about toys and meet people; at the same time, I show him what I want him to learn from the beauty in the world.”Playing Mantis, 32 North Moore Street, NY. Red Barn, $350 Cherry Train, $80 Apple Tree, $200 Pinocchio Puppet, $50 www.friendlymantis.com
Imelda McCain and son Lucas
Photo: Liam Goodman