story and photos by Julie Bagley
Hundreds of parents and children descended Friday afternoon onto the Bentonville Square expecting to see Toyland come to life instead they saw the set-up.
There was apparent confusion on the square where First Friday takes place. It consists of different themes, anything from Oktoberfest to Toyland. Usually only food and music can be found from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and other events from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The event was labeled on the website as 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and 5 to 8 p.m.
The Toyland is a partnership with Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart Visitors Center, Radio Disney and Wal-Mart’s toy vendors. Dozens of vendors show what parents can expect in stores that is new to their toy lines. At noon, several vendor booths were empty.
“There were parents that complained horrible,” said vendor Stacy Bray.
She’s participated with MGA Entertainment for seven years. She and her husband were setting up their booth at 2 p.m. Another vendor was also caught off-guard by the early crowd.
“We were told the event was from 4 to 9 p.m., where these people have come from is a little discouraging. We are not set-up and we are not ready,” said Cathy Bell from Mattel, “We drove up at 10 a.m., I don’t know if this is an early preview.”
Bell has experience with Toyland. She has participated in the event since it first took place at the Wal-Mart Home Office as a preview for company associates.
Downtown Bentonville Executive Director Daniel Hintz said there should be no confusion and these are two events. The early afternoon is for food and music while the toy preview is in the afternoon.
The schedule wasn’t clear to mother of two, Amber Keene.
“This is how we make our Santa list and nothing is set-up. This is the worst in three years we’ve been coming,” she said.
She noted in years past, there was an obstacle course where children could ride power wheel cars. There was no course this year something Mattel noticed as well.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Bell as children sat in the big ticket item instead of riding them.
Hintz is expecting up to 8,000 participants for the event while vendors said they expect more than 10,000. More than 9,000 leaflets were given to area school districts to advertise the event.
“We produce all kinds of events. Everyone knows what they are doing,” said Hintz, “This is a very smooth event.”
While construction on Center Street leading to the square is still under construction, Hintz said that’s not a factor for participation. He said it is a good sign that investments are being made into the downtown experience. He also noted there are plenty of parking spots.
“We don’t have a lack of parking. It’s for any event you may need to walk,” he explained.
While vendors said it will be a long day, most know it’s for the children.
“This takes a lot. The nice thing is, the toys go to Salvation Army. I think it is a great thing,” said B.J. Earp with Mattel.