Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The magic of LARK Toys, a southeastern Minnesota toy store October 6, 2015

A handcrafted sign inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

A handcrafted sign next to a window inside LARK Toys, Kellogg, Minnesota.

LARK TOYS IS MAGICAL.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are handcarved.

All of the creatures on the LARK carousel are hand-carved.

A cozy and creative corner int he bookstore.

A cozy and creative corner in the bookstore.

In the game room, you can try out games.

In the game room, you can try out games.

No other adjective quite as succinctly describes this sprawling toy store along Minnesota State Highway 61 on the outskirts of Kellogg. It’s a business that showcases old toys and new, handcrafted and mass-produced. Toss in a candy shop and a bookstore, hands-on opportunities for kids to try out toys and the focal point—a hand-carved carousel—and you have magic.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Playful puppets pop color into a section of the multi-room toy store.

Our family visited LARK years ago, when the kids were still at home. But this time it was just my husband and me meandering through the maze of rooms amid lots of grandparents with grandchildren in tow. I made a mental note to some day, when I become a grandmother, revisit this place.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

For $2, kids can ride this one-of-a-kind carousel.

It's not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

It’s not just your usual horses on this merry-go-round.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant.

This LARK employee dressed the part of a fun-loving carousel attendant as she watched the ride go round and round.

But this was now and I delighted in watching youngsters scramble onto their chosen animals—like a giraffe, dragon or pelican—as the colorful carousel curator readied the ride for a spin.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

Jelly bean and other candy choices are plentiful.

From there I ducked into the candy shop, perusing the vast collection of jelly beans in flavors like juicy pear, strawberry jam and tangerine.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

When I was growing up, Felix the Cat with his magical bag of tricks was my favorite cartoon.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

Another vintage toy in Memory Lane.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store.

My Scrabble memories stretch back nearly 50 years. This message on the Scrabble letter holder is like many positive quotes displayed throughout the store. I love that detail about LARK Toys.

Then, along the hallway to the toy store, I paid homage to Felix the Cat, a favorite cartoon character from yesteryear displayed in the store’s Memory Lane section of vintage toys.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

A connecting hallway serves as Memory Lane.

Passing a public police box (a TARDIS for those of you who know and understand the BBC sci-fi TV show Doctor Who), I entered the Main Toy Store. And, oh, how I wished I was the grandkid with Grandpa and Grandma carrying a credit card.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

No one was at work in the toy shop when I snapped this quick photo through an open door.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

These muddy pigs are among the wooden pull toys handcrafted at LARK Toys.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

More animal pull toys handcrafted by LARK Toys artisans.

Without doubt, I would have begged for a wooden pull toy handcrafted at LARK Toys. As Randy and I admired pull toys like a fire truck, elephant, snail and even a mud-splashed pig, we remembered the wooden frog our eldest daughter hopped everywhere until the toy eventually wore out. It was not crafted at LARK. But it was similar to LARK toys. There’s something grassroots appealing about the simplicity of a wooden pull toy.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

A troll (I think) on the carousel.

And there’s something about LARK Toys, too, that’s truly Minnesota magical.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Enter at your own risk, grandparents.

Toy samples are set up for kids to play with within the toy store.

Toy samples are set up for kids to test.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

Rows and rows of Schleich animals fill shelves.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

LARK Toys offers a vast selection of marbles.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Kids left their signatures in magnetic letters.

Fun walking sticks.

Fun walking sticks.

Art on display.

Art on display.

Fun on a windowsill.

Religion on a windowsill.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

Randy and I have a little fun with a funhouse style mirror.

There's fun outdoors, too, with mini golf and llamas to observe.

There’s more outdoors with mini golf and miniature llamas.

FYI: In December 2014, USA Today named LARK Toys among the top 10 best toy stores in the U.S. A year prior, viewers at WCCO TV voted LARK Toys the best toy store in Minnesota.

The toy store is located at 63604 170th Avenue outside Kellogg in southeastern Minnesota. Take County Road 18 to Lark Lane. You can see the dark brown sprawling building from U.S. Highway 61. (I think the structure should be painted in multiple eye-catching vibrant colors more suiting to a toy store.)

Hours vary according to seasons but are 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily from now through December. After that, limited winter hours kick in for two months. Click here for full store hours.

As part of the Wabasha-Kellogg area SeptOberfest celebrations continuing to the end of October, LARK Toys is hosting stories and songs for preschoolers and families in the bookstore from 10:15 a.m. – 11 a.m. on Friday, October 9. A musical march to the carousel follows with free rides.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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29 Responses to “The magic of LARK Toys, a southeastern Minnesota toy store”

  1. Kay Herbst Helms Says:

    Looks like so much fun!

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    I have driven by this establishment 100’s of times and have never stopped. Mostly because of a lock on another destination. Love the muddy pigs. Thank you for sharing this. The Mrs. and I will have to stop in the next time we are out and about in the Kellogg area.

  3. Thread crazy Says:

    What a wonderful toy store. Yes Felix the cat was a favorite of mine too. That is such a cool place for kids n grownups. Now I want to come visit!

  4. Almost Iowa Says:

    Holy Moly, I never heard of this place. I will tell the Mrs. to bring a book so I can play all day!!

  5. Oh My – I so want to go and PLAY and have FUN – that Carousel is AMAZING 🙂 The attention to detail in this place that sparks the imagination, the curiosity, the play, the creativity – LOVE! Thanks so much for sharing this COOL Place 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

  6. Marneymae Says:

    Omigoodness
    What an amazing place!
    I love the muddy pigs!!!

  7. Well, now, I’m going to have to be one of those grandparents and take a field trip with my granddaughter! That looks awesome.

  8. Littlesundog Says:

    Wow! What a cool place! Who doesn’t get side-tracked in front of those crazy mirrors? I loved that shot of the two of you. I’m afraid, bookworm that I am, I’d get waylaid in the book section.

    Board games were big in our home growing up. I now realize it was a good way for mom to keep us all in one area. I’m not sure it helped us behave. Almost always there was an argument about a cheater or someone not playing fair!

  9. Jackie Says:

    We loved taking our kids to larks, now it’s the grandkids. Such a fascinating place!

  10. I love the muddy pigs!!! Marbles!!! I haven’t seen them in years.

  11. Sweet Posy Dreams Says:

    Wow, what an amazing place. My son always had a terrible time deciding on a toy when my folks took him to a large, old-style toy store in Nashville. It took him forever, walking up and down the aisles again and again. I think in Lark, it might have been even tougher for him! What a fun place to visit.

  12. Beth Ann Says:

    What a fun and interesting place. I think this would be a great place to spend quite a bit of time (and maybe money) while finding the perfect toy. I love the Solar Pope. 🙂

  13. Sue Ready Says:

    I too have been there and thought it a fun and magical place. I even have a photo of myself on the carousel. A step back in time remincing one’s childhood.


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