Equal parts toy store and museum, Lark Toys in Kellogg, Minnesota, is a hidden gem for anyone with a youthful heart and playful disposition thanks to its series of historic displays and a handmade carousel the likes of which exists nowhere else in the world.
Despite being tucked away in a sleepy Midwestern town, Lark Toys has established a reputation as one of the finest toy stores in the world. Built upon a foundation of handmade, heirloom-quality wooden toys, the family-owned business has expanded to include not only an envy-inducing selection of toys for kids and adults alike, but also an 18-hole mini-golf course and a candy shop.
Flash and dazzle aside, toy connoisseurs understand that the true magic of Lark lies in its proud history. Scattered throughout its lauded store are a series of antique displays positioned throughout the building known as “Memory Lane.” Thousands of toys from eras past are tucked within a series of glass cases, showcasing the favored toys of our forefathers. Howdy Doody hangs out alongside little green army men, Barbie keeps company with the elegant dolls and nesting dolls that came long before, while separate nooks pay homage to tin doll houses and Erector sets, and yet another area contains an original bicycle surrey, pedal cars, and much more. To keep the spirit and continuity going, Lark gratefully accepts donations of toys for its ever expanding historical collection.
All that said, Lark’s star attraction is its handmade, full-sized carousel housed within the store. Donn Kreofsky, the store’s former owner, worked with a carver named Bill Stark to create the carousel, which is made from Minnesota basswood. The “rideable work of art,” as it’s known, has been running since 1997.
Rather than sticking to the horses of more traditional carousels, no two seats at the Lark carousel are alike, and there is only one horse. Rather, each seat takes the form of an animal carved in exquisite detail; a dragon and a majestic stag race a grinning boar, while a playful river otter keeps company within arms’ reach of an albino buffalo and a madly dashing wolf, even as countless other characters on the carousel turn just out of sight.
It’s as if the creator understood the power inherent in taking a turn on his creation, populated by a world of fantastic, peacefully coexisting animals, or wandering the halls of a toy store where not so much has changed across generations; in enjoying that brief respite from reality, visitors to Lark seem to be able to turn back the wheel ever so slightly before reentering the world outside its doors, perhaps just a hair more in-touch with the youthful innocence that can be so easy to lose along the way.