Rediscovering your inner child

art blastpasttoysEach day, James Bandy and Clifton Coleman hangout with soldiers, princesses, dinosaurs and aliens.

Their domain is Blast From The Past Toys in downtown Canton, a business endeavor partly forged out of necessity to make a living in a down economy and partly from their love of toys.

“Times are tough in this economy, so Clifton and I decided to do something to recover from that. Toys sell year-round,” Bandy said.

Display cases are filled with small armies of action figures — Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Batman, to name only a handful of the seemingly endless selection. And don’t forget Barbie.

Shelves are piled high to the ceiling with packages of things you haven’t seen since you were a kid or things you never knew existed but must take a closer look at.

Lifelong toy collectors, the duo became friends eight years ago while selling at Smiley’s Flea Market in Fletcher. Bandy was selling his collectables, while Coleman was selling fishing gear in the next booth. They crossed paths and solidified a bond through a mutual love of toys. Eventually, even with another fishing store in Clyde, Coleman’s business was slowly teetering.

“My business wasn’t doing all that much because it’s seasonal. In the winter, it’s hard to make a dollar,” Coleman said.

Coleman soon left the fishing industry. A chance encounter with Bandy opened the doors for a new venture. The two were playing pool when talk began hovering around the idea to go into the toy business together.

“His toys were jumping off pretty well, and my fishing stuff wasn’t,” Coleman said. “James came to me and said, ‘Why don’t you go into toys with me?’”

The plans were set in motion. For the last 10 months, they’ve been looking for a building and getting everything into place. It’s been a long road, but an adventure nonetheless.

“I brought my toys out, and he brought his out,” Coleman chuckled.

Sadly, Bandy had few memories of his own childhood. He suffered from epilepsy for much of his early life, which impaired his memory. It wasn’t until a cranial surgery two years ago that he was able to regain some of his cherished moments. It was through familiar toys that things began to appear again.

“It brings back old memories and creates new ones,” he said.

And with Generation X growing up and getting jobs, disposable income is falling more into place. These adults, whose toys are long gone or were nonexistent, now have the financial stability to replace and rekindle their love of certain toys.

Another explanation for the retro-toy trend: the parents of today were kids in the ‘80s and are introducing their own children to the toys of their own youth.

“You see a lot of that. You couldn’t afford it as a kid, and now, you want it,” Bandy said. “It’s an opportunity for imagination. A lot of toys I have are newer toys and don’t have anything to do with my childhood, but then you see a younger child or teenager come in here and find something that reminds them of their childhood.”

Since opening, business has been steady, if not increasing. Collectors from other counties and other states are flocking to the store. Word of mouth is quickly spreading and so is the positive reputation. There are plenty of return customers already, with plenty more surely on the way.

“I haven’t had anybody walk out of here disappointed; a lot of times they’re just aggravated they don’t have enough money to buy everything in here,” Bandy laughed.

Canton resident Danielle Snider and her husband Ryan were checking out possible Christmas present ideas last week. They were driving through downtown when they saw the sign for the store.

“It’s a lot nicer than I expected,” she said. “They have a great variety here. There are a lot of hidden treasures to look through.”

Gazing around the shelves, Danielle remembered all the figures and images across the walls. She stopped for a moment and smiled to herself.

“I’m thinking about all those old toys my mother gave away to Goodwill,” she said. “They’re all here, too. I wonder how much mine would be worth today.”

Coleman is excited for what the future holds. The store can accommodate any price range, but that’s just part of the intent behind the business. For him, it’s about the people and seeing them connect with a beloved piece of their past.

“My thrill is watching the kids come in. It’s a nice feeling,” he said. “You don’t know if they’re having a bad day or not, and they come in the toy store and get a smile. There’s something here for everybody.”

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