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Carole Barry inspects the used offerings at Boomerang Kids in Ottawa.
Carole Barry inspects the used offerings at Boomerang Kids in Ottawa.

Parents gifting more used toys Add to ...

A fresh layer of snow might be the only new thing brightening up Kristine Osgoode's home this Christmas.

Most of the toys under the tree are used, purchased in advance of Santa's big day from consignment stores for less than half their regular retail price.

Welcome to Christmas present, where the Magi come bearing second-hand gifts.

"We're just being more focused on what we're buying this year to keep the cost of Christmas down," explains Ms. Osgoode, a mother of two boys in Nepean, Ont.

She's not anticipating a backlash from her sons, who are 6 and 8.

"My kids won't care. They won't even notice that the toys are used," she says. "There are certain things that they want, and whether or not they have packaging on them won't matter. All they care about is if the toy is new to them."

It's this kind of thinking that's pushing used-toy sales through the roof at some resale stores this year, among them Boomerang Kids with five locations in Ottawa.

Co-owner Krista Thompson says that while the recession has pushed retail sales down, purchases of second-hand items at Boomerang stores are up 20 per cent from the same period last year.

Supply is up as well, with more people coming in to sell their toys instead of giving them way "because they know they can make some money," Ms. Thompson says.

It used to be that the idea of second-hand toys at Christmas was so off-putting to parents that resale stores would close over the holidays due to a lack of customers.

But not this year, when a still-rebuilding economy is giving resale a whole new feeling of jolly.

"This is the busiest Christmas we've ... seen in the 15 years we've been in business," Ms. Thompson says. "I'll be lucky if we're able to put our feet up by New Year's."

Hot sellers are anything wooden - train sets, cars, dollhouses, baby toys. "They're hot because they are seen as organic," Ms. Thompson says.

But video games and equipment are also selling well this Christmas, notes Mansoor Wadhwani, manager of Game Centre in Toronto, where second-hand sales are also up 20 per cent over the year.

"We have new customers this year who are saying, 'We never did this before. But this year we're tight; we have to watch our spending,' " Mr. Wadhwani says. "They are buying used to save money."

For her part, Danielle Christopher, a mother of two in Langley, B.C., bought used trains, books and DVDs as Christmas presents this year for practical as well as financial reasons.

"I am a stay-at-home mom and my hubby's work has slowed for the season. He works in carpentry. It just makes sense to buy used. Kids' tastes change by the hour. Buying previously owned toys helps us keep up with them."

Some parents may be wary of their kids' reaction, worried they might equate second-hand with second-best.

Parenting expert Alyson Schafer cites the example of one family she counselled after the daughter felt slighted when she received a Tiffany bracelet that her parents had purchased from a pawn shop.

The item had been on her Christmas list, and her parents, not able to afford it, were thrilled when they found the trinket used, but in good condition, for a fraction of its original cost.

But in this case the thought didn't count.

"The daughter felt this was concrete proof that they felt her to be second-tier material and was crushed," Ms. Schafer says.

She suggests that parents who are giving second-hand for the first time, especially to older kids, draw attention to today's emphasis on "reduce, reuse, recycle." Buying resale fits right into that philosophy and might even earn some parents brownie points, especially with teens who are concerned about their role and place on the planet.

"My teenage daughter, a youth social activist versed in world politics, has noticed the disparity between North America and Third World countries and this has made her excited about thrifting with her friends at the local Goodwill or Value Village," Ms. Schafer says.

For Amy McSweeney, an Ottawa kindergarten teacher and mother of two children, ages 4 and 8, buying second-hand this Christmas spreads the message that in an age of over-consumption, a little scaling back is a good thing.

"I want my kids to appreciate the play value of a toy and not its shiny newness," she says. "Toys aren't trophies. They're meant to be enjoyed. That they're used shouldn't matter."

Follow on Twitter: @Deirdre_Kelly

 

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