Toy With Yourself!

Scream really loud. Now run around in a circle, arms flailing, and laugh like an idiot. It feels good to be a child again, doesn't it? It is relaxing and therapeutic. To complete this therapy, go out and buy a toy, and not, by any means, some video game or Barney doll. Instead, return to the single-digit years with something a bit more creative. To make searching for that perfect plaything more enjoyable, here are some suggestions.

Canyon State Collectibles

5245 E. Pima St., 795-1922

To escape the crowded traffic that runs along Pima Street, one's inner child can scurry into Canyon State Collectibles, a small, charming, mom-and-pop operation specializing in all things collectable.

The store is owned by John Catanzaro, who was laid off when the company he worked for was blown out in a merger. "They tell you, you get laid off, I got fired," he says laughing with a hint of animosity. "I had planned on doing this anyway when I retired, but after I lost my job, I decided to retire early.

Catanzaro opened his little store eight years ago with things he had been collecting since he was a child. Over the years, his collection has grown, while at the same time becoming more and more eclectic. The objects on the shelves range from "Star Wars" figures, to a toy Batmobile, to an 80-year-old, near mint-condition train set, to a "Battlestar Galactica" lunch box that sits high on the top shelf among teddy bears and other stuffed animals.

For toy soldier enthusiasts, Canyon State is definitely the place to go. Catanzaro has almost 2,500 Britons for sale. He says Britons are to toy figurines as Rolls Royces are to cars. And it is apparent when he displays his miniature combatants how much he treasures them.

Catanzaro's most prized possessions are his original animation art cels. He owns between six and seven thousand of them, including cels from the Disney's "Aristocats," several other Disney shorts, and one from 1947 that features the original Jessica Rabbit, wife of Roger.

Just as there are things that Catanzaro has been quite happy to acquire, there have been sad partings. Among these dearly departed items were Catanzaro's rare coin collection dating back to the 1700s. He also said that it was hard to sell his complete sets of Bowman baseball cards from the years 1950, '51 and '52, because they contain the Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays rookie cards, which are particularly valuable.

The feeling surrounding Canyon State Collectibles is one of warmth, where childhood dreams come true once again.

Gertrude's Collectibles

118 E. Congress St., 884-5912

There are places on Congress Street that will no doubt be remembered in Tucson folklore. One such place is Gertrude's Collectibles. Gertrude's was opened four years ago by Tony Lopez and his mother Sandra.

"I did it for the love of my toys," Tony Lopez says. This philosophy is evident throughout the store as well. "I have the store set up the way I want a collectable store to be. I got frustrated going into Toys 'R' Us."

Like John Catanzaro, Lopez started out with toys he had been holding onto since he was a child. He admits, however, those are the hardest to let go of. Such toys were giant G.I. Joe dolls, a Dark Shadows game, and a Heroes in Action set.

On Lopez's wish list are Captain Action Series action figures, Lord of the Rings dolls, and Colorform Aliens, the flexible figures from the '60s and '70s. "They are pushing $2,000," Lopez says.

Given the value that some toys have accumulated, and stories of parents giving away veritable fortunes by mistake, Lopez says, "Don't give anything away. At least sell it for something." People who want to get rid of their old stuff to make space should be careful. They may have a gold mine on their hands.


306 E Congress St., 622-8807

Down the street from Gertrude's is a monument to fun, Yikes Toy Store. Yikes calls itself a "nontraditional toy store" and there is perhaps no description that fits better.

"We just search the world over for goofy stuff," says owner Hazel Rugg. "That's our goal in life."

Yikes started out as the brainchild of a man named David Chandler, who in turn recruited Rugg, who subsequently convinced three other people to get involved, bringing the number to five. Rugg recalls that they were a hit from day one.

Despite the success of Yikes, as the years went on some partners began to lose interest. Rugg says she thought of selling, but she was having too much fun. Being the only remaining partner, she then moved the store from its old location on a corner of Congress Street to its present one, next to her first venture, Picante, which specializes in South American, "cross-cultural" fashion. The two stores are connected and continue to thrive.

Rugg touts Yikes as a toy store with a goal to "appeal to kids of all ages ... This is a job for somebody who really likes people and can goof around and have fun. I get a lot out of it besides money, and I don't get a lot of that."

There are few people who could not find something they like at Yikes. The walls and shelves are hidden and covered by squirting cameras, tops of all kinds, marbles, giant cockroaches, punching puppets, wind-up metal elephants on bicycles, beanies, Wide World Fact Maps, magic books, giant model planes and gliders.

According to Yikes employee Lisa Spilsbury, the store's best selling items are both the memorable and obscure. They include potato guns, snap caps, brain-shaped candles, glowing skeletons, glow-in-the-dark squirting demon heads, wind up turtles, and B-movie refrigerator magnets. Among non-toy best seller list are T-shirts touting the importance of "rubbers" and the dangers of "unhuggable bugs."

Spilsbury describes Yikes as an anti-video toy store. "There are no Barneys or Power Rangers," she says with a grin. "These are toys for kids to use their brains, not just hand- eye coordination, although we have those too. Yikes is very inconsistent, but it fits."

Mrs. Tiggy Winkles

4811 E. Grant Rd. Suite 151, 326-0188

What's in a name? A lot for Mrs. Tiggy Winkles. Besides being inescapably catchy, Mrs. Tiggy Winkles is the name of a character in a Beatrix Potter story.

"She cleaned people's dirty laundry and that's what we saw ourselves as. So, it just stuck with us," says co-owner Cary Lung. Of course, that was in their early days. Mrs. Tiggy Winkles was a resale store at one time. They specialized in antique wind-up toys, framed children's art, and things of the like. "We were really picky about the stuff we sold," recalls Lung. "It got hard to find good quality antiques, so we started to buy new stuff. Four years in, we stopped carrying the old."

That was 12 years ago and since then their inventory has expanded and now includes books, clothing, dress-up and otherwise, and toys.

Lung describes the present day Mrs. Tiggy Winkles as a zany, educational, upscale, fun toy store, bookstore, and clothing store. Yet, he distances Mrs. Tiggy Winkles from other "educational" toy stores. "They take themselves too seriously. We try to add a sense of whimsy." He cites the film "Toys" as one of his influences. "It bombed, but it had a powerful message. I think kids need to learn, but they need to have fun doing it."

That seems to be Lung's driving philosophy: that everyone needs to have the release of having fun. The book room at Mrs. Tiggy Winkles is important for that very reason. "Books can take you away from regular life. They can give you adventure, relaxation."

If for no other reason, Mrs. Tiggy Winkles is deserving of a visit because of its interior design. It is so impressive that it was one of ten toy stores to win a recent industry design contest. It placed Mrs. Tiggy Winkles along side such stores as Imaginarium of California and F.A.O. Schwartz. "I felt proud. It was really, really nice," says Lung modestly. "It really helped me among my peers across the country."

Despite these accolades, one thing that Lung would like to see more of is college students. "College kids are a part of it, and we have some working here." Yet, he believes that all college students could relate to it. "I think we need to take ourselves less seriously."

Besides being privately owned and operated, there is another common thread that runs through these stores. Customers are greeted with a friendly smile.

So with the end of the semester bearing down and finals approaching all too fast, relax. Go buy a toy, spend a few hours playing with it, whatever it may be, and never forget: "you'll have a head start if you are among the very young at heart."

Read Next Article