Most who were young and lived in Butler from the 1950 to the middle 1990s were very familiar with an independent business far removed from the banality of the chain stores. Alland’s Toy land was a retail store located in a narrow storefront on Main Street. It was essentially unchanged from when I first saw it in 1953 to the time when I visited during its going out of business sales over forty years later.
Allands was completely devoid of clever merchandising. It had plain wooden floors and cheap lighting from a ceiling that seemed to be 50 feet high. Toys were stacked high along the walls. It tried to keep things of essentially similar interest together in large bins but their success in this area was dubious. This added to the mystery of the place, however, and regular customers could expect that items would be in the same lace for all eternity. Magic and joke items, such as fly in the ice cube or the special candles that you could not blow out were always near the huge 19th Century NCR cash register. Rubber dinosaurs were near the front door as were cupie dolls of various sizes. Duncan Yoyo and Silly Putty were just beyond that. Model cars were in the second row – you had to walk by the register to get there and no more than two people could possibly stand in that row at once. Games were in the back of the store which looked so much like a warehouse. You could find Tickle Bee or a simple game of jacks. As a child you don’t think of such things as organization or inventory – all you see is fun, imagination, magic, and play.
When I visited the store for the last time, I noticed that the same sad –eyed people who ran the store in my youth were still running the store. It did strike me as a child as it did again on that final visit, that it seemed unusual that such sad-eyed people could provide so much joy for others. For them it was probably only another long day at the shop, for us- child and adult alike– it was something else altogether.
I don’t think I can buy a handshake buzzer for my grandchildren at Toys R US. The simple unadulterated joy of allowing my grandchild to select his own rubber dinosaur from a simple wooden bin may be unattainable in any of their many impressive aisles.