COLE CAMP — Jon Morris typically hears two things when shoppers come into his store, Back In Time Toys: “I remember that” and “Oh, I wish I still had that.”
With an inventory that stretches from the 1880s to today, “It is impossible for someone to come in and not find something they had as a child, saw as a child or wanted as a child,” Morris said. “It’s just a happy place.”
Back In Time Toys opened in May with no fanfare as Morris and his staff, Jessica LaRue and Matt Gare, wanted to get the shop set up and slowly build an audience. The store officially opened Memorial Day weekend, and a billboard on U.S. Highway 65 has helped bring in customers looking for new or vintage toys.
“Business is up 32 percent from May to June,” Morris said. “And July has just been great. We have had strong word of mouth, and it is just going to get better and better.”
Morris, who has homes in both Cole Camp and Blue Springs, developed an affinity for downtown Cole Camp and all of its historic buildings.
“I saw that this building (113 E. Main St.) had been vacant for about a year and a half and was starting to fall into disrepair,” he said. “I ended up buying it, not really knowing what I was going to do with it.”
Morris’ childhood love of toys was cultivated by his father, a fire chief, who would give Morris metal fire trucks for Christmas, and by his grandfather, whose train engineer career prompted railroad-themed gifts. As Morris looked at Cole Camp’s downtown offerings he saw plenty of antique stores, which he believes draw more female shoppers. He wanted to do something “more slanted toward men” and decided that a toy store would be a natural fit.
“I thought it was a win-win because we could save this building — we tore it down to the studs and rebuilt it up,” Morris said. “I could get a business in town and create a couple of jobs in the area.”
Gare landed one of those positions and finds Back In Time Toys to be “a great place to work.”
“Most of the people who come in here, it’s like a trip down memory lane,” he said. “We get great reactions from both kids and adults. They see something they remember from a good time in their life. It’s kind of neat to be able to share that with them.”
The shelves are stocked with everything from a $600 Coca-Cola pedal car to $2 Barbies and $1 farm tractors. There are dolls, trucks, puzzles, action figures, vintage board games and interactive toys including Pete Pepper and His Friends, the forerunner to Mr. Potato Head. The original set included Pete, a green pepper, along with an orange, a potato, a carrot and a zucchini. Pete lost top billing, Morris said, because kids gravitated to the potato or would put the add-on pieces on a real potato.
Pop culture buffs will find an array of toys tied to classic films and television shows. Along with “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” items, the store also offers “Gilligan’s Island” and “Happy Days” dolls, as well as the full set of characters from “The Love Boat.”
“What I have found out through doing this is that pretty much any TV show, any movie, anything that lasted any significant amount of time at all has their own merchandise line,” Morris said.
To keep his inventory fresh, Morris shops local and online auctions every week.
“Surprisingly, Missouri is a very good toy spot,” he said, noting that at a recent auction in Gravois Mills he purchased a Cold War-era missile launcher truck. But now that people have found his shop, many are bringing in old toys either to sell or to seek appraisals.
“I’m not an expert on everything, but I have a lot of tools” to track down items’ values, he said.
But Back In Time Toys isn’t only about nostalgia. The shop also carries current lines from Tin Toy Arcade and Melissa & Doug. The latter makes games, wood puzzles and playsets, and all of its items have an educational component such as improving manual dexterity or figuring out fractions.
Debbie Eckhoff, of Stover, has become a regular customer.
“I was mesmerized by the amount of nostalgic toys they have, but was happy that they also have some modern toys, especially the Melissa & Doug (line), because that is what my children like,” she said. “I just think it has myriad possibilities in a small space, something for everyone of any generation.”
Morris is driven to track down those “remember when” pieces.
“We love doing special items. If there is something you had as a kid and you want it and we don’t have it … we can find it,” he said.
Recently a Grain Valley woman came into the store asking if the 1950s dice game Skunk was available. Morris had never even heard of it, but he went to an auction and found it.
“When I brought it to her, you could just see the emotion and the tears on her face, because every Sunday her mom and her would play that,” he said. “Something that made (me) $8 was worth $10,000 in satisfaction. And that is the best part.”
Providing items from long ago is a key component of Back In Time Toys, but Morris said the goal is not to be a museum of collectibles.
“In the end, toys are supposed to be played with,” he said.
Gare agreed, and seeing young and old alike light up when they come into the store is a perk of his position.
“There’s a ton of toys out there,” he said. “We’re giving a lot of them a second life.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Back In Time Toys
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays
WHERE: 113 E. Main St., Cole Camp