It’s hard to forget our favorite childhood toys—the ones we longed for, begged for, and threw a fit for until they miraculously appeared as special treats or holiday gifts.
I waited (and pleaded) for six whole months before my first dream as a gay boy came true: an easy bake oven. I preferred to cook and entertain rather than crash cars and fight Power Rangers, whipping up a mean quiche and mock mimosas (just orange juice) for makeshift brunches by the time I was 8. Let’s just say I was well prepared for life after college.
For Sam Wells, co-founder of the vintage toy boutique Toy de Jour in Chicago, it was G.I. Joe action figures. His wife and business partner, Liz McArthur, tossed aside her Barbies for She-Ra figures before raiding her neighbor’s He-Man collection.
“I was really big into the cartoon and then I started trickling through the Transformers and He-Man,” Wells told The Daily Beast. “But, it was always focused on G.I. Joe and it still is to this day.”
Wells and his wife have been passionately collecting toys and action figures since they were kids. The two met when they were 14 and began selling their finds at toy shows four years later before getting “adult jobs” and moving their endeavors online.
“We had a storage locker and closets full of toys that we were holding for no reason,” McArthur told The Daily Beast of deciding to expand into a retail space. “So we started selling a lot of our own collection.”
Then, Wells’ “adult” career began to stray away from his passions. Having started as an assistant publisher for a comic book company (G.I. Joe, Transformers, etc), he soon found himself at a creative services company that designed packaging for Hasbro. But when it was acquired by a “massive downtown agency,” his creative duties diminished.
“It got further and further from the toys that I started out working with,” Wells said, “so it just made sense to get back to something that I wanted to do.”
The store, which opened last year, reflects their passion—hundreds of toys cover almost every inch of the Logan Square shop. There are action figures, stuffed animals, toy trucks and circus memorabilia, almost guaranteeing you will find a little slice of nostalgia in every visit.
“We have a lot of kids come in, so we like to keep small things around,” Wells said. “And then we have higher-end collectables that go to three or four hundred dollars.”
But kids aren’t the only ones getting in on the action.
Anyone born in the 1980s or later will recognize the vast majority of toys up for purchase—Star Wars action figures, a Cabbage Patch doll still in its package, My Little Ponies, and rock-star dolls from ’80s television show, Jem and the Holograms. There are Dragon Ball Z characters, California Raisins figures and massive Disney characters.
The selection is so huge that if a Where’s Waldo toy is in stock, finding him becomes a real-life game for patrons.
“People are always coming into the store saying, ‘Oh, I used to have that!’ and ‘Man, I always wanted this!’” Wells said. “So it’s great to be able to provide that.”
McArthur recalled a moment when she unknowingly stumbled upon a rare, mint condition toy set from the 1950s at an estate sale. Having no clue to their value, she asked a fellow patron (an elderly man) at a toy show if he had any idea.
His face dropped, she remembered, shocked at seeing a Roy Rogers pop-cap pistol. “I didn’t notice, but a crowd of older men had started crowding around me,” she stated. “He said, ‘It’s never been fired!’ and the whole crowd started echoing him.” They sold it for $300.
It is the kind of thrill the keeps their passion alive—finding the toys that bring excitement and joy to others. That and digging through the troves of toys that get dropped off, their hopes set on finding a gem like a Game Boy Watch found at the bottom of a massive 150-figure Ninja Turtle collection that spanned from 1988 to 1994.
“We spent like a week identifying what piece went with each turtle,” McArthur said. “It was the best week of my life.”
In addition to selling collectables, the pair also feature a different artist every month as part of their “featured artist” program, an opportunity they set up when the shop was in its early days as an IndieGoGo fundraiser.
They’ve had painters, potters, and photographers. March’s artist is Jaime Knight, whose paintings are inspired by movies, television, and nostalgia, just like the store.
Her works will be on display and for purchase and coincides with the shop’s one-year anniversary party on March 14.
“I love when we get a new collection in and get to piece stuff together,” Wells said. “Even if it is just a collection of G.I. Joes. Mine at home is complete but I still love looking through them.” And he can, for hours at a time, at Toy de Jour.