Remembering Toy Town

“I never thought it would make me so emotional but by looking back it really has,” Gordon Dobson tells me after having spent more than an hour sharing his memories of the beloved shop he first managed from 1965 and later owned from 1977.

Toy Town, at 105 Regent Street, Leamington, opened ten years before Gordon took charge but back then it was more a ‘bizarre’ resembling a market stall on one floor at the site which is now mainly the Superdry store.

The 80-year-old, of Portland Street, oversaw major changes and refurbishments to the shop, which included its outward and upward expansion, and was the last person to own the business before it closed in May 1995 and made way for MVC.

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“It was purely because of high rents, that’s what caused me to close, at the time we were still going strong it was just the matter that when the review came and I took it to arbitration the building’s owner wanted a 222 per cent increase in the rents and they were given 155 per cent increase.”

Despite the closure, which has been described by twitter followers as a “loss to the town”, Toy Town’s story was largely one of success.

In its time it was the largest independent toy shop in the country and the first in Leamington to advertise on national television.

It led the way in regard to the stock it would bring into the UK, being the first shop to have Playmobil and Hello Kitty products.

Gordon’s family were also involved in the booming business.

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His son Mark was a part-time employee while his late wife Brenda worked in the office and would accompany him to toy fairs as far afield as New York and Nuremberg where he could keep his finger on the pulse of the latest crazes.

For youngster’s Toy Town was an Aladdin’s Cave full of exciting and unexpected things, stocking everything from marbles and joke toys to Hornby models and Subbuteo.

John Pertwee visited as Worzel Gummidge to reopen the shop after it was refurbished in 1981 while Rod Hull and his mischievous glove puppet Emu terrorised staff on one occasion.

“One point which sticks in my mind was when the bombing in Birmingham had happened and everyone got out of the city the following weekend,” Gordon said.

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“I’d never seen that amount of people in this shop, it was shoulder to shoulder there was no space at all, it was scary in a way”.

Toy Town had more to offer than celebrity appearances, its annual Santa’s Grotto and the quality and quantity of its stock.

Children were encouraged to stay and play, providing they behaved themselves, and the store was vibrant, colourful and welcoming.

Gordon said: “Even now if I’m out somewhere people will say ‘Oh Toy Town, why isn’t there a place like that now?’ and they like to reminisce and remember what it was like.

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“Things have changed and there are stores which were large enough to absorb it and have continued but its the smaller shops which were affected the most.

“I could see the internet coming along but it was something I would had to have gone into whether I wanted to or not.”

After Toy Town closed Gordon was unable to walk past the shop for 12 months, such was his sense of loss.

But having built the store up and drawn in shoppers from all over the country he has much to be proud of.

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“We had people coming in, particularly after we started to advertise on the television, and they were saying ‘this was the first time we’ve been to Leamington, what a nice place it is to come and shop’,” said Gordon.

“It was doing the town an awful lot of good.”

Toy Town was also an important retail employer, having up to 40 staff on its books during its busiest periods.

Vera Draper, 84, of Stonehouse Close, Cubbington, (pictured left) worked at the shop for 15 years from 1977, selling soft toys and dolls and building up the book department.

She said: “We all had a great time, we were really good assistants and we got on well together and worked hard. My stockroom was on the top floor and I had to carry stock up there when a delivery came in.

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“We enjoyed Christmas, we used to run a club where people could come in and choose something and pay so much until it was paid for.”

Like Gordon, Vera still meets people in town who remember the time she worked at the shop.

“I still see some of my old customers and they say they’ll never forget it and usually I’ll remember their children and it’s interesting to hear how they got on,” she said.

“My children have said to me it was nice going in there because there were so many nice cheap little things that you could buy like marbles and little cars.

“But I like to go in and have a look at the new toy store in Leamington and my daughter tells me it’s a good shop.”

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