AVON (CBS) – Toys R Us is making a comeback. The toy store will reopen a new flagship shop in New Jersey this month.
And that got us thinking, could Child World, a beloved toy store that got its start in Avon, do the same thing?
Bruce Lane, a historian from the town of Avon, says Child World had a magical feel.
James Zahn is the senior editor of the Toy Insider and says it was a wonderful experience, “Kids loved it, and I was one of those kids.”
Child World was founded in 1962 by Sid Shneider and Joseph Arnesano in Quincy, and they eventually moved the headquarters to Avon. And part of that appeal was created by the store’s mascot, Peter Panda.
Lane even has his very own Peter Panda costume that he keeps at the town’s historical society.
“Here was Peter Panda with his bright shirt and his overalls cruising in on his roller skates to tell the kids about all the new toys coming in,” Zahn gushes.
And it was not just a loveable panda that made it memorable for kids and parents alike.
“One of the things that was unique about their stores,” says Lane. “If you went into a mall or shopping plaza, you could see the Child World sign before you even parked because they all looked like castles.”
“It was an unmistakable experience,” Zahn goes on. “Child World and Children’s Palace literally looked like a palace. These were buildings with white brick on the façade, red-topped turrets on the side. Nothing else was like it.”
At its peak, Child World had 182 stores in the U.S. and more than a dozen in Massachusetts.
“That was actually the first toy store that our family ever shopped at. So, it was just one of those things that we enjoyed,” Charlene DeLoach from the Toy Insider reminiscences with a smile. “I remember, I was at the Hanover Mall, and that’s where we’d go. And if we had good report cards, that’s where we would go to get our toys.”
Later, the company acquired Children’s Palace to become the second-largest toy retailer in the U.S. Just behind Toys R Us.
Deran Muckjian, who now owns three independent toys stores in Massachusetts, worked for Child World.
“TV licenses. movie licenses was really big in the toy industry back then,” Muckjian says. “So any movie that came out to Jurassic Park or Ninja Turtles or Star Wars or Star Trek, all those licenses, we built a whole brand upon because the kids were very excited about it.”
Deran says it was a great time to be in the industry.
“Working at Child World was exciting. I got into it. And I wanted to do it even more.”
At one point, Child World was so profitable, legend has it, they would just throw out toys returned by customers.
“Occasionally, there would be stories of someone trying to sneak in at night,” explains Lane. “And pull a Barbie doll or a G.I. Joe out of the dumpster.”
But, the fun eventually came to an end when Child World, amid financial missteps, filed for bankruptcy in 1992.
“Child World went away too soon,” says Zahn. “Early ’90s; I don’t think we are ever going to see that come back.”
But Zahn believes there is hope on the horizon with another type of store for kids.
“They’re called Camp. They are new players in the game who are looking to restore the magic, if you will, of shopping for toys. To reinvent it for a new generation. We’re never going to see those gigantic, big box stores again. But there will always be toy stores because kids will always want to play.”
Zahn says kids and parents need to seek out those small, independent retailers who really care.
“Toys is what I do,” says Muckjian looking back at his career. “And I still want to do it until the day I decide to close the store and walk out.”
Lane says he has plans for his Peter Panda costume because they are pretty rare. “I actually saw one online on eBay. They were asking $1,700 for it. I don’t know who would pay $1,700 for one? But this one I got for nothing.”
And Lane hopes Avon never forgets its rise and fall in New England’s toy history. “So, at night, I put him in the window with a timer and Peter Panda’s looking out over Avon.”