On Sunday, October 1st, Toy Wizards’ Jonathan Alexandratos moderated a panel at Toy Fair about the state of small toy shops today. Delivering their expert insights were Johnpaul Ragusa of Imperial Castle (as seen on A Toy Store Near You and Collector’s Call) and Reina Mia Brill and Dan Treiber of Dan’s Parents’ House (as seen in The New York Times and on many local NYC news programs). The aim of the panel was two-fold: establish the ways in which small toys shops are pillars of their communities and stress the need for greater support from large toy companies.
In the group’s discussion of small toy shops as community leaders, Brill and Treiber spoke about the community fridge they host at their shop, and the ways in which their store acts as a space for locals to gather, host parties, and de-stress after a long day at the nearby school. Ragusa added to this through tracking his participation in local school career days and his shop’s status as a similar communal hub. All panelists mentioned the ways in which social media and TV programming help bring people to their shops, making their reach national if not global. This is why, says the panel, the COVID-19 pandemic was easier for their businesses to weather than some: as people needed to stay home, they sought refuge in the toys and games of their youths. These shop owners stopped at nothing to bring this form of relief to customers, and, based on the high numbers of products they were able to sell (under safe conditions), there is no doubt they were successful.
It is because of this role as broad community support that the panel sought change in the way big toy companies do business. While those corporations easily serve the needs of Target and Walmart, there is room for improvement in their relations with smaller shops. They could, as Brill suggested, create programs that would funnel loose toys, often received as returns, to small toy stores that specifically sell opened items, as Dan’s Parents’ House does. Ragusa, Brill, and Treiber also advocated for a better understanding of the ways in which high minimum dollar amounts on orders box out small shops. It is understandable why a big toy company would want to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise in a single order, but to ignore the lighter spenders entirely makes small businesses feel as though they can’t even get into the same room as the makers of the toys they sell. This, the panel agreed, is where the disparity lies at its most problematic.
Ragusa perhaps put it best when he said of small toy shops, “We’re not small. We’re big, we’re just broken up into many small pieces.” That accurately describes the massive network of small toy shops that are the lifeblood of the toy industry. They are received as such by their customers, and deserve to be seen this way by the big corporations, too.
For more on these shops, follow them on Instagram! Dan’s Parents’ House is @dansparentshouse and Imperial Castle is @theimperialcastle.
Jonathan Alexandratos is a NYC-based toy writer. They study toys, pop culture, and the intersection of both.