Teeter Totter Toys in Vernon has held steady despite staffing and supply shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely on the back of three-dimensional games such as puzzles and board games. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Teeter Totter Toys in Vernon has held steady despite staffing and supply shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely on the back of three-dimensional games such as puzzles and board games. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Too much COVID screen time? This Vernon business has your kids covered

Kelowna optometrist finds worsened eyesight in children during pandemic; Vernon’s Teeter Totter Toys aims to help

Staffing and supply shortages have been offset by strong sales at Teeter Totter Toys of late, as parent and kids reach a new stage of COVID-19: from HD to 4K to 3-D.

Three-dimensional board games have been selling by the armful during this latter stage of the pandemic. The Vernon toy store of more than 20 years even managed to sell a 40,000-piece Disney puzzle last month.

Staff were “ecstatic,” but owner Lynne Taylor said the $700 sale was barely worth the effort when you have to lift it.

“It was really, really heavy,” said owner Lynne Taylor.

Teeter Totter’s manager, Susan Phillips, said they hadn’t even meant to order the mammoth puzzle.

“The whole problem with online ordering is it’s easy to make a mistake,” she said.

That’s part of what makes stores like Teeter Totter stand out in today’s local business scene. Like other Vernon toy stores, Teeter Totter has been a bastion of the pre-pandemic days of brick-and-mortar commerce. Online shopping may be booming but two-day delivery doesn’t always fit the bill, and locals still need gift advice on the day before their niece’s birthday.

As Taylor told the Morning Star March 26 — exactly one year after closing due to COVID in 2020 — nine times out of 10 customer service wins the day.

“So many people come to our store for the service, they come in and right away they’re looking for something, or they have a child who is a certain age and they go, ‘I haven’t a clue what to get them.’”

If they can’t find a good fit for the customer in-store, they refer them to another shop in town. It’s a display of local gamesmanship during tough times for businesses across the board.

But games involving the physical world — at a time when kids have been forced out of in-person activities and into virtual classrooms — have helped the business soldier on.

“Business-wise this past year has been really, really good,” Taylor said. “We had a real surge in puzzles, selling games (and) anything for kids to do at home, to be outside.

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Parents may be seeking out ways to cut down on their kids’ screen time, which many experts are now attributing to a rise in eye-sight issues in children during the pandemic.

Dr. Paul Rollett is an author and optometrist at Okanagan Vision Therapy in Kelowna, which opened a Vernon branch a year and a half ago.

In the COVID period, Rollett estimates referrals for kids dealing with headaches, tension around the eyes and other signs of nearsightedness have gone up by about 25 per cent over 2019.

“It’s probably multi-factorial because we’re a growing company,” he said.

But there is some compelling literature to demonstrate this advance of near-sightedness, says Rollett, citing a JAMA journal article, ‘Progression of Myopia in School-Aged Children After COVID-19 Home Confinement.’ JAMA is considered one of the world’s leading medical journals which publishes research that shapes public policy, the New York Times said March 25.

“Home confinement appears to be associated with a significant near-sighted shift in children aged six to eight, according to school-based photo screens,” Rollett said, pointing to a medical journal report titled Progression of Myopia in School-Aged Children after COVID-19 Home Confinement.

“That sort of near-sightedness is certainly on the rise.”

He also said the JAMA research “is not a small cohort study,” with 123,000 kids involved.

“We’re definitely advocates of the three-dimensional brain-building activities when possible.”

Rollett’s vision therapy team has used LEGO in the past to help kids aged six to eight develop stronger links between the eyes and the hands.

“It forces them to integrate vision and fine-motor skills.”

It could explain why LEGO is annually among Teeter Totter Toys’ top sellers.

That was until recently, when the supply of the coveted toy bricks completely dried up from November 2020, over the Christmas season and through to the end of February.

Instead, the business has stayed buoyant thanks to over-the-top sales on puzzles, board games and other 3D activities during the pandemic.

“A gal that was just here, she came from Kamloops just for puzzles,” Taylor said. She described a trend of more people leaving the store with five or six puzzles at a time, “whereas in the past they might get one, some might get two.”

Whether or not parents are catching on to the problem of ramped-up screen time, Taylor says grandparents are already on the same page as the ‘fine-motor activity proponents.’

“They don’t even believe in screen time,” she laughed.

READ MORE: Vernon company a People’s Choice favourite


Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
Follow us: Facebook | Twitter

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