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Hex Bugs, Remote Control Helicopters Top Holiday Toy Lists

For 70 years, Amato's Toy and Hobby has offered classic and high-quality must-have holiday gifts for children and adults alike. Here's what they can't keep on store shelves.

Diane Gervais may be the mother of a 14-year-old, but when it comes to toys, she gets about as giddy as a teenager herself.

Middletown's Amato’s Toy and Hobby manager is talking about one of the trendiest gifts this holiday season — the Loopdedoo friendship bracelet maker.

“This is really popular for girls," Gervais says. “This just came in Friday. It’s a brand new item and we sold out over the weekend. It’s $35, which is a little high in a craft kit, but they’re blowing out of here because it’s so different. Eight-year-olds want to do it, I have a 14-year-old who wants one and the college girls are like, ‘Oh, I want one!’”

Gervais does the ordering for the toy store.

Everyone who went to camp as a child recognizes these friendship bracelets. Loopdedoo makes the miniature weaving process a snap.

“You use embroidery floss,” Gervais explains. “You make these coiled bracelets or belts as opposed to the ones you weave, which take longer. There’s a way to do different patterns” and raised textures.

Amato’s, which has been around for 70 years and has a second location at 283 Main Street, New Britain, has seen its share of trends come and go but one thing is for certain — time-honored, high-quality classic toys, the kind parents keep long after the kids have grown and pass along to grandchildren, are perennials.

“Traditional favorites are yet again popular, like race sets, train sets, dollhouses, wooden Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends trains,” Gervais says. “There are some new things that are very hot this year like radio-controlled helicopters, they’re super hot. I can’t keep them in stock — [even] 60-year-olds buy them.” For themselves.

Even if these indoor copters, remote-controlled cars and monster trucks break — a big consideration for parents doling out $50 to $100 or even more — Amato’s carries a full supply of repair parts, says Dale Benoit, who staffs the hobby department.

They’re very durable. “We fly them in here all the time because they’re just little,” says Gervais. “They just zip around!”

Battery-operated Hex Bugs and Zibits are hot gifts, too. They are “little remote-controlled robots that zoom around and react to things. It’s one of those things that came in so quick and is going out so quick,” Gervais says. They’re priced at $14.99 and up.

For the third year in a row, the storybook Elf on a Shelf tops holiday gift lists. No batteries, electricity or assembly required, just a book and a plush toy.

“It was developed by a mom and her daughter. It was a tradition in their house and they wrote the book and marketed it,” Gervais says. “It is this elf who comes to the house before Christmas. He sits on a shelf and keeps his eye on things and he reports to Santa as to how children are behaving and what list they should be on.  There’s a whole story on it. CBS has a 30-minute show they aired the day after Thanksgiving — and just got word,” Gervais says excitedly.

“They’re going to re-air it, which is unheard of. So they created an animated cartoon to go with it, like [Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer].”

Once the book’s popularity exploded, the makers created additional, larger plush Elf on a Shelf toys, Gervais says.

“These are because they discovered after they sold quite a few of them, children were upset because the elf goes away on Christmas Eve. Santa comes and the elf goes back to the North Pole to start working for next year, so they were upset the felt elf was gone, so this one is the stand-in.”

Children can register their elf online to “complete the adoption process” and start a scrapbook that can be shared with family and friends, the makers explain.

“So many were registered online as girls,” Gervais says, that the company created a little elf couture skirt.

“We keep selling out and restocking and another order is coming,” she says.

Science and chemistry are always popular at Amato’s.

“Science kits are to boys what craft kits are to girls,” Gervais says. “We see a lot of robot kits in particular. A lot of the more serious ones, some of these get more pricey, are used by homeschoolers.”

And then there are Mad Libs (founded in 1958) and Gund plush animal collectibles (which began in 1898) — both of which have been around for multiple generations and are perfect for stocking stuffers or secret Santa gifts.

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