NEW YORK – The day after Thanksgiving is like the starting shot that gets shoppers racing toward the holiday finish line.
From Harry Potter memorabilia to nostalgic items and video games, this year stores are stacked to the rafters with new gadgets, toys and games.
"It's important to remember there's something out there for everyone," said FAO Schwarz's vice president of communications Alan Marcus. "And it's the thought that counts."
For kids who like adventure, Marcus recommends the Scream Machine, a modern day Green Machine.
Remember the Green Machine, the plastic, neon green hot rod that sported an emergency brake and made every kid in the neighborhood who had a plain Big Wheel green with envy? Well, the Scream Machine promises to leave those memories in the dust. Retailing at $99.99, the lightweight speed demon is expected to top a lot of wish lists this holiday season.
But for parents who are slightly faint of heart, there are tamer playthings out there for junior.
Marcus said highlights of the holiday season include Barbie as Rapunzel, in which a section of the doll's hair grows like the fairytale character's, and the Hershey's Chocolate Magic molding kit, a toy that allows kids to melt chocolate chips into their own candy creations.
But nothing is expected to fly off the shelves like this year's Harry Potter merchandise.
"With the movie out, Harry Potter is the hottest property right now," said Marcus.
Board games like The Whomping Willow and the Harry Potter Diagon Alley game are expected to be sure-fire hits among muggles alongside items like Professor Dumbledore action figures and the Potter Micro Quidditch stadium, in which players enact their own magical game.
According Toys R Us' top toys list, LeapFrog's Quantum Pad, designed to make school subjects fun and easy, will be big among kids seven years and older, and Electronic Arts' NBA Live 2002 for Playstation 2 is a must-have for kids 11 years old and up.
"LeapPad and My First LeapPad learning systems have been huge hits over the past two years," said Jim Silver, co-publisher of Toy Wishes, an industry magazine dedicated to the toy industry. "LeapFrog has extended that success to the Quantum Pad learning system."
For adults, gamers will be looking into The Sims Online, which has generated a lot of buzz this year. The best-selling game, which lets players re-create regular life on their hard drives, launches an online version next month. Maxis, a division of Electronic Arts, is expecting a record year in sales.
"If you look at the success of The Sims, we have 7 or 8 million people worldwide who have purchased The Sims and another 12 million who have purchased the expansion pack, so the potential market is huge," said Julie Kanarowski, product manager for The Sims Online.
"It's great to see how many fans we have," she said. "Our product appeals to (people) who want to be social and creative, and who want to express themselves and build something," Kanarowski said.
If computer games aren't your bag then the release of the 20th anniversary edition of Trivial Pursuit might be just what Santa ordered.
And while most of these toys are pricey, FAO's Marcus says there are deals to be found if you look close enough.
"I think toy prices have come down significantly," he said. "There are deals to be found, things like the classics, LEGO and stuffed animals."