Monday, February 23, 2009

Toy Fairs Past

Long before Jacob Javits became the hub for the NYC Toy Fair, there was the Toy Center at 200 5th Avenue. Toy Fairs then were not the horizontal open-air bazaars with aisles and aisles of playthings that we know today. Rather in the old Toy Center, the annual extravaganza was held in a combination of vertical towers connected by an oddly placed but functional “bridge” on the 9th floor that attached more exhibits at 1107 Broadway to the main Center.

Most toy and game companies maintained “showrooms” at the Toy Center and would not bother to exhibit at Javits; it was an inconvenient location mostly for startups. The Toy Center forced buyers and the thousands of miscellaneous fair goers to use the grossly undersized elevators or the narrow and steep marble stairways to get to the showrooms protected from un-welcomed visitors by an “appointments only” mentality. After all that physical abuse to find a company, there was little hospitality shown by the reception desk temp or business-suited security enforcer to any guest without an appointment. Toy Fair was a serious time for sales/orders, not for schmoozing inquisitive non-buyers.

Yielding to my curiosity about the old Toy Center, on Saturday afternoon, February 14th, I took my valentine, Leslie, to the changing neighborhood at 23rd and Broadway. Maybe this nostalgic photo op captures a few memorable scenes for those in the toy biz before Javits became the center of the toy universe.

The iconic clock in front of 200 still stands with the incorrect time. Maybe the green light is saying "Toy people, do not stop here. Go directly to Javits."

The 23rd St. side entrance may be open, but only the "ghosts of toy fairs past" are home.  Why is the entrance protected by a tunnel of street level scaffolding?

To my query, the workman says, "I told you once, but I'll tell you one last time, pal. I know nuttin' about showrooms, there's nobody alive in there! Guess they're puttin' in new offices or sumptin'."

Wait a minute! Didn't I often park my car on the second or third tier of this lot one-half block from the Toy Center when I was silly enough to buck the NYC traffic?

Yikes, a Home Depot. I'm confused! Isn't this the old Hasbro showroom on 23rd St. where I spent hours in meetings and Toy Fairs?

Safe at last back uptown where the toy business is still hoppin'! (Wonder if my new game, Quad*doku, will draw all these shoppers later this year!!??)

OK, Mike Hirtle, I know you're in this Times Center showroom on a Saturday. I have a few 
great new game concepts to show you. No, I don't have an appointment! Guess if I can't get in, I'll just wait for the opening day of Javits, February 15, 2009.


  1. Hey Ron, I enjoyed your Search for Toy Fairs Past. Your mini-drama in NYC played out like Jimmy Stewart visiting Potterville. "I know nuttin' about showrooms" is a classic line. Every year for the last 15 years I was in the biz people asked, "Do you think this will be the last Toy Fair?" I always answered "No" and explained why with a Mark Twain quote: "The less reason you have to keep a tradition, the harder it is to get rid of it."

  2. Thanks for a trip down memory alley.

    I think you captured well the memories of Ol' 200 and the rigid policies of the closed showrooms. Part of that whole protectionist/secret thing had to have been schtick because there was little of value in many cases. But the Fort Knox appearance was curiously interesting and could lead one to think that there was gold in thar.

  3. We liked these shows because all the toys which couldn´t be found in any place because I had finished all these fairs were in lot and very cheap. I hope to return these fairs that bound us all lovers of toys!