Mr. Imagine’s Toy Store in Wicker Park, Chicago: An Awesome Store Where No Toys Are For Sale
I first heard about Mr. Imagine’s Toy Store through a Twitter post. A collaboration between the Chicago Children’s Museum and ad agency Energy BBDO, Mr. Imagine’s Toy Store is a real-world extension of the museum’s “Unboxed” exhibit (and I later learned that LATENT DESIGN helped with the layout of the space as well).
Made to look like a real toy store on the outside, the interior reveals that there are actually no toys for sale at all – just lots and lots of cardboard.
Kids are encouraged to pick from a variety of cardboard boxes, each featuring an augmented reality barcode (when scanned, it reveals a possible toy that can be made using that item). In the rear of the store is a “Workshop” area, featuring a lot of markers, crayons, scissors, tape and glue… where each child can run wild with their imagination, creating whatever they like.
There were a lot of great decorations created by the staff, adorning the ways throughout the space.
As fun as the place looked, I bet it was just as fun creating all the elements… prior to the store opening.
A view of the interior, from the entrance.
Unfortunately, when I showed up it was around 11:00 AM on a Tuesday morning. Most kids were at school, and the place was empty save me and the staffers (who were all very friendly, and even showed me around the place). The more I saw of the space, the more I wanted it to be filled with kids – it seemed a crime for the place to be empty!
As I ventured further into the store, I knew that I wanted to post up these photos quickly, and that I wanted to try to get the word out. Particularly since the storefront would only be around for a week!
There had already been some press online about the store, and I knew a lot of kids had shown up over the weekend for the grand opening. But seeing how great this place was in person… well, it made me want to share it with as many people as I could.
It’s the smile that makes this.
Not only were there great cardboard items everywhere…
there was also a lot of fun artwork on the wall.
Near the workshop entrance, there was a large castle/platform area.
In the center of the castle was a monitor. At first, I thought it was a touchscreen, but turns out… it was a monitor with a webcam. When you held your box to the cam, the augmented reality bar code would display a possible toy that you could make with your item.
In the back room, where the real magic happens.
Lots of supplies and equipment for kids to use.
And two large workstations, ready with tape and scissors and glue.
A few staff creations, on display in the workshop area. I love that the guy on the left has a pink belt.
And in the back back room? A ginormous camera! On seeing this, I was just beside myself with how awesome it was.
Here’s where I just started gabbing to Courtney, the staffer who was showing me around back. I couldn’t believe there weren’t any kids inside, and it felt just wrong that I was the only “customer” in the store. More kids and parents needed to know about this place!
Here’s a backdrop, where you can sit or stand, posing with your toy/creation.
A view of the back room, from the top of the stairs.
Of course, the giant camera isn’t simply for show. It also takes photos!
On Courtney’s suggestion, I decided to pose for a picture. I didn’t make anything myself, but spotted a cardboard helmet that looked like it would fit. On activation (that would be the giant button in the center), the camera took four photos in succession, and printed out your photos for you to take home.
And now… I’m on a mission to try to spread the word about this fantastic place, to let as many people know before time runs out. If you’re in the neighborhood, this is a great space to check out with your kids. It’s free, and accessible either via the Milwaukee bus, or with a brief walk from the Division or Damen Blue Line stops.
I’m bummed there weren’t any kids when I showed up. Not because I didn’t get any photographs of kids at play, but because the space simply deserves to have kids inside – exploring, playing, creating. Looking around myself, it made me feel like an absolute kid again. I cannot say enough good things.
If you’re considering stopping by, don’t wait! The storefront is a temporary popup, and will be “in business” for only a week:
Mister Imagine’s Toy Store
1371 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60622
Open Every Day, 10AM – 6PM, through Sunday, October 21st