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Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids

Conversation Pieces That Will Woo More Than Just the Wee Ones

Most San Franciscans already know and love the curiosity shop Paxton Gate in the Mission, full of unusual objects and conversation pieces that ignite the imagination. The same folks that brought you that fabulous store just opened in December their new venture, Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids, just a block away from the original on Valencia Street near 19th Street.

In a moss green building that recently housed part of the New College, you’ll find toys that are the antithesis of the mass-produced and marketed, throwaway plastic garbage that you’ll find at the local mall. Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids features vintage playthings, games from previous eras, non-toxic toys made of recycled and sustainable materials, and more. These are the kind of toys that don’t need batteries, power cords or long instruction manuals and are perfect for sparking a child’s creative mind. The merchandise is even labeled with colored dots to denote if they are organic, produced via green manufacturing, independently designed or fair trade.

The special space itself is fitting for the well crafted items within. The lovely room is wide and tall, with large glass doors at the back of the room. Mustard yellow/green paint colors the walls. The room, which once hosted an Irish Morgue, still has some of the older wall fixtures, such as one of the fireplaces, which is now a shelf for toys.

The store’s welcoming and playful atmosphere pulls in not only children, but inquisitive adults as well. In fact, when I visited it was during school hours so there were actually no children about. Though, the adults there seemed to be full of childish glee, exclaiming “That looks like fun!” and “Remember that?!”

You could even almost make an afternoon out of the visit to the store, reading or crafting at one of their corners of creativity. There’s a “stamp station” with lots of fun inks and stamps, in addition to an assortment of pens and construction paper. All of this is located just next to the shadow puppet theater. They just had a Shadow Puppet Workshop at the beginning of the month where puppeteer Caryl Kientz taught kids how to make their own puppets and create their own stories. For those of you who missed the event and don’t have time to make your own puppet, you can pick up one designed by Owlyshadowpuppets.com ($14). Check the website for upcoming events.

In another corner, there’s a shaggy round rug where kids can stretch out with a story selection picked from a basket of books. Kids can also start their own library with books such as Cat E Gory, a book of 50 Edward Gorey drawings of cats ($15), a classic collection of a Mary Poppins trilogy in a paperback box set ($19), or The Little Red Light House and the Great Gray Bridge ($8).

Next to the reading corner is a very limited assortment of apparel on a clothesline strung with knits caps and clothes, such as a hat from Unvanessary ($38) and a vintage white dress ($32).

Vintage toys are also sprinkled throughout the store. These collectible items are available for your general amusement or perhaps to be used as a decoration, such as a small antique red metal car ($24), or a vintage metal tray with an image of Humpty Dumpty ($29) from the Ohio Art Company, makers of the Etch A Sketch. The real standout for me was the red fire truck with a crank engine displayed prominently in the middle of the store ($390).

Other selections include classic toys like wooden stacking robots ($17) and a jar of marbles ($1 each). Budding geologists might want to add to their collections with pieces of copal amber ($3), magnetite ($9) or zebra jasper ($2).

The store also displays and sells hand-crafted, one of a kind works of art. Fun wall mounts include ceramic horns from local sculpture artist Sarah Becker ($425) and stuffed animal mounts ($48). There are also cross-stitch letters from Kimberly Scola ($56 each). Place your order for whatever letter or letters you like and it will be filled by the artist in 1-2 weeks. Other artists’ works include ink on panel pieces from Oakland-based artist Freya Prowe ($450) and handcrafted wooden marionettes from Niki Ulehlha ($5100).

Even if you don’t end up buying a toy, it makes for a good browsing experience and a fun time for both kids and adults.