NEW BRITAIN - Before the Internet boom and brands like Wal-Mart and Target were popping up from coast to coast, Toys R Us was once the playground for children.
Kids would drag their parents to the store and beg for a new item to take home to entertain themselves with. Today that is much of the case.
Last Monday Toys R Us filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with almost $5 billion in debt, much of it left over from its $6.6 billion acquisition by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Bain Capital Partners and real estate investment trust Vornado Realty Trust in 2005.
Although, as of now, the retailer does not plan to close any stories it is unclear how Toys R Us will do with the holiday shopping season approaching.
In the mean time mom and pop toy shops are thriving.
“An advantage (for small businesses) like us is that we are more part of the community,” said Steve Amato, owner of Amato’s Toy and Hobby on Main Street. “Some people understand that when I make $1 it stays here it doesn’t go out to Arkansas or somewhere else.”
Having been a family-owned business for 76 years, Amato said he is able to develop a relationship with customers and give them personalized service – something major retailers cannot do.
“We get a lot of families that grow up with us, people that come in with their grand kids who used to come in when they were kids,” Amato said.
All of the staff who work in the New Britain store, as well as Amato’s second location in Middletown, have knowledge and interest in all of the items sold.
“If someone has a question about how something works, we can help with that,” Amato said.
Due to the fact that Amato and his family are the ones buying all the products, rather than a corporate office, they are able to purchase the items they know their customers are looking for.
Amato said they do not always jump on the bandwagon to get the “hottest latest products.” Instead he looks for quality items and tries to get American-made products as much as he can.
“Generally customers are more interested in creative and educational items. We don’t sell video games,” said Amato. “We get a lot of parents who want children to do more than press buttons on a screen.”
For ten to twenty dollars people can purchase a hobby kit or board game – an inexpensive way to stay entertained for hours and also brings people together.
According to Amato, the most popular items in the store right now are radio controls, model trains and creative hands-on items like craft kits.
“We can also respond quickly when we see something really popular we can keep in stock, we don’t need approval (to purchase the inventory),” he said.
When the store doesn’t carry an item that a customer is interested in, Amato said they will even look into it to possibly start selling it.
Angie DeRosa can be reached at 860-801-5063 or firstname.lastname@example.org
SIDEBAR FOR STORY:
Lions and tigers, and bears, oh my! For the first time ever Amato’s Toy and Hobby store will host a Zoo Day today.
In the lobby from 12 to 3 p.m. Scott Robbins and his pet snake will be there teaching kids about the reptile.
The toy store has a large variety of stuffed mammals and reptiles, all of which will take a trip outdoors to get fresh air.
Children are encouraged to bring a photo of their favorite animal or pet to show Robbins, and refreshments will be served.
Two dollars from each stuff snake purchased that day will go to a snake/animal charity.
To keep the interactive experiences going, on Saturday, Oct. 7 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Amato’s Toy and Hobby will have its third annual Event Under the Tent and Customer Appreciation Day.
Free activities for kids, refreshments and giveaways will be going on all day as well as lots of one-day specials and more.
There will also be a free train clinic were guests can bring in one or two of their locomotives for a free tune up and lube from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Amato’s Toy and Hobby store is located at 283 Main St. in New Britain.