Toying Around in Amato’s Toy and Hobby
Feel like you need some stress relief? Want to forget you’re an overcommitted college student for a little while? You can relive your childhood with a trip to Amato’s Toy and Hobby. Amato’s is a local toy store right on Main Street and offers the perfect way to relax before the heat of finals starts.
Amato’s was founded in 1940 by Vincent Amato. Still in the family, it is now owned by his daughter, Diane Gervais. Amato had an entrepreneurial spirit at a very young age—he started his business at only fourteen years old. Working out of a corner of his parents’ business, he sold wooden model airplane kits, a popular toy for boys in the 1930s and 40s. As he grew older, his business grew larger. Now Amato is in his eighties and his business has a branch in New Britain as well as Middletown. The daughter also started her work in the toy business at an early age.
“I started working at the store when I was five, so I’ve been around it all my life, and I’ve been doing this professionally for about 30 years now,” Gervais said. “We do toys and hobbies, and we still sell those model airplane kits.”
Amato’s has changed its products with the times, but Amato remained true to his ideas about the importance of certain toys. Gervais herself spoke about the store’s evolution, as it adjusted the kinds of toys it sells.
“Over the years [my father] sold a lot of different things, but he always tried to center it around family-oriented activities,” Gervais said. “The store sells a lot of the same things we’ve always sold, but there’s always new products and new types of hobbies.”
Amato’s is an independent retailer, which Gervais said makes for a more intimate shopping experience. Customers are able to explore the aisles to see what appeals to them, instead of rushing through to check items off of a list. The store makes an effort to offer its clientele toys that allow children to be creative and imaginative.
“We carry things that are a little bit more thought provoking and interactive, so they’re not as mass-market oriented,” Gervais said. “An action figure, who already has a name and a superpower, isn’t a very creative toy. With things like Playmobil®, you can kind of create anything you want, so it has some longer-lasting appeal.”
When I visited Amato’s, I saw that what Gervais told me was true—I noticed just how many different types of products were available there. There were Girl and Boy Scout materials, art supplies, books, board games, stuffed animals, costumes, and more.
I was especially struck by the transportation section, which was full of model trains, planes, and automobiles, as well as manuals for building and using them. I was especially impressed by the train display, one of the main features of Amato’s Middletown store. One of the walls is entirely covered with glass cases displaying different types of toy trains. According to Gervais, there is also a train exhibit downstairs.
“There are antique trains down there from [my father’s] private collection, which are mostly from the 20s and 30s, and then there are current ones that people can buy,” Gervais said. “It’s a popular exhibit—we’ve had about 11,000 visitors in about two years. It’s open one weekend a month and more in the summer. Around Christmas, it’s open every weekend, from a little before Thanksgiving until after New Year’s.”
Gervais said that Amato’s clientele includes multiple generations of families. People who used to go there as children come back with their children—or even with their grandchildren—to explore and find something special for their kids or maybe themselves.
“We have a lot of student business too; we have art and architecture supplies that people use for actual school, but we also have Frisbees and bubbles and Legos that might make the week more tolerable,” Gervais said. “We have customers of all ages and all categories, which is really fun for us.”
On a stressful weekend, a trip down to Amato’s was a great stress reliever for me. A friend of mine even bought a toy there—a colorful plastic “sippy cup” with his name on it. Some toys were familiar (like Clifford the Big Red Dog or an old card game) and others less so (like purses with small stuffed animals peeking out of them).
So if you have a second to breathe during these last few weeks, go check out Amato’s—maybe there’s a toy there for you.