Toy Story: Ohio’s vintage toy shops

A ride-on horse with wheels was $395 at 580 Antiques in Columbus. (Photo by Margo Bartlett)

No one ever went into the vintage toy business out of dreary obligation.

In fact, many of the people we met during our look at vintage toy stores around Ohio started as hobbyists collecting the memories of their own childhoods.

“A hobby turned into a business,” says Mike Patterson, owner of Mike’s Vintage Toys in Springboro, describing his career path.

Patterson’s small store at 50 Tahlequah Trail is packed with Batman, G.I. Joe, Star Wars, and Marvel Comics figures, as well as Transformers, Cabbage Patch dolls, board games, Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters characters, and Pez dispensers by the tubful. Pez dispensers, it turns out, are a leitmotif running through vintage toy stores. They’re everywhere.

Patterson says his business was inspired by his own boyhood toys, but “as an owner, you realize you’ll buy anything you can sell.” Still, his customers tend to be action figure collectors, and they find a kindred spirit in Patterson.

Customer Casey Bellman, who collects Star Wars and Marvel Legends pieces, confirmed that. Bellman is dedicated to completing collections that are accurate down to the tiny blaster. Should he learn a piece, or part of a piece, is a reproduction, “my goal is to instantly try to replace it,” Bellman says.

“Mike does an excellent job of authenticating his stuff,” Bellman says. “He knows what’s real and what’s not.”

We visited a neat little shop in West Carrollton, near Dayton, though it’s moving soon to make room for new development. As of early October, Toy FanAddict was still holding out at 1178 E. Dixie Dr., where it was floor-to-ceiling toys, action figures, and paraphernalia from play dates of yesteryear. Olivia Shirley, clerking there recently while owner Tony Bolling was away, took from a locked case a Star Wars comic book dated Feb. 8, 1978. The price then: 10 cents. The price now: $200.

A large — possibly life-sized — Yoda, armed with a long green lightsaber, was $500; a metal truck emblazoned with the words “Bank of America” was $175. But not all items were high-dollar. A Ninja Turtle on a skateboard was only $5, and other small trucks, horses, and board games were $10 to $30.

An Annette Funicello doll, legs inexplicably wrapped in foam, had no price that employee Shirley could find. Perhaps her contributions as a 1950s Mouseketeer render her priceless. A small mountain of Pez dispensers was on hand, of course.

Toy FanAddict plans to announce a new location on its Facebook page soon.

Jason Williams’s business card identifies him as “chief engineer” at Big Fun, 672 N. High St. in Columbus’s Short North neighborhood (the original Big Fun is in Cleveland). Williams offered this rule of thumb: A toy expensive when new will be expensive when vintage. As an example, he cited Transformers. About $100 in the 1980s, an ’80s Transformer recently sold for $500. The buyer was lucky; Williams has sold Transformers for $650 each.

G.I. Joes are popular, and lots of Legos are bought and sold, Williams says. We found Pez dispensers here too, some in a locked display case and others tumbled in a bin.

Mark Nelson, who has a booth at Off Broadway Antiques, 3369 Indianola Ave., Columbus, says toy shoppers fall into one of two groups: serious collectors willing to pay for rare toys, and browsers, who “ooh and aah” but move on (probably speedily) when they see the price. For that reason, Nelson said, he’s been advertising a $228 Kingsbury ladder truck online, though he may bring it back to his booth if it doesn’t sell.

Other Off Broadway vendors offer vintage toys, including a $35 Roy Rogers guitar, a tin trolley, and a Barbie doll dressed as Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara.

Eileen Piurowski owns both Off Broadway Antiques and another antique mall east of Indianola Avenue, 580 Antiques, 580 Oakland Park Ave. “I don’t get huge waves of toys,” Piurowski says. “People kind of hold on to them.”

At the Oakland Park mall, an $85 Keystone Ride ’Em Power Shovel and a riding pedal horse with wheeled hooves ($395) awaited new homes. So did a large round-headed doll perched on a couch.
“We call her ‘creepy doll,’” Piurowski says. The doll, which had a smile and a $150 price tag, wasn’t all that creepy, but she did resemble — just a bit — Big Baby of Toy Story 3.

Debra’s Vintage Toys proprietor Debra Coleman maintains Booth 71 in the Maumee Antique Mall, 1552 S. Reynolds Road, Maumee. Her well-stocked booth recently included board games (Wild Bill Hickok, Happy Days, The Waltons), several Shirley Temple items, a doll wearing a Brownie uniform and beanie, and a James Dean doll.

Coleman says her toys can’t be categorized. “Mostly people seek me out,” she says, and her offerings are as varied as her customers.

Elsewhere in the mall — a former grocery store — a vintage toy shopper can find books and comics, including Hopalong Cassidy’s “My Horse Topper” and the comic book Girls’ Love Stories. Also on hand recently: a toy amusement ride for $375; $48 Popeye toothbrushes; and a Bart Simpson alarm clock that announces: “Time to go, man!”