This Iowa toy stash will turn Santa green with envy
Jay's CD and Hobby owner Jason Shreve describes why adults buy vintage toys. Daniel P. Finney
If Santa’s workshop had an annex, it would surely look something like the backrooms of Jay’s CD and Hobby store near Southeast 14th Street and Indianola Avenue.
Toys, CDs, DVDs, vinyl records and sports memorabilia fill long white boxes and clear plastic bins in wood-frame shelves standing 12 feet high in three separate storage rooms.
One bin overflows with classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures and stuffed toys from the late 1980s. Another bin is filled with signed baseballs from minor league players. There’s a whole room of board games, vintage and new, and disc golf equipment.
Shop owner Jason Shreve pulls out three issues of the Uncanny X-Men from a long box of comics. They date back to the superhero comic’s earliest days in 1963 and 1964.
They’re written by Marvel Comic’s auteur Stan Lee and the grandmaster of graphic storytelling, Jack Kirby. The issues — Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 9 — range in price from $90 to $150.
Vinyl records from classic recordings of guitar maestro Jimi Hendrix and power vocalist Janis Joplin pack a whole wall of the store.
Boxes overflow with video game controllers from all manner of systems ranging from the original Atari to the latest wireless models for the PlayStation 4.
One box is filled with nothing but Mario Bros. video games from the original 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System.
Last month, Nintendo sold out of a new version of its NES Classic Edition, small enough to fit in the palm, ready for HDTVs and preloaded with 30 favorite games.
But Jay’s has stacks of the original machines in his warehouse. His staff replaces the electronic part that reads cartridges, which eliminate the maddening routine of blowing on the end of a cartridge and loading and reloading to start a malfunctioning game.
“We package them with a Mario game and sell them for $80,” Shreve said.
But why would someone pay $80 for a 31-year-old video game system or $150 for a 52-year-old comic book?
Shreve isn’t just selling old toys, comics and music. He’s selling time travel.
That vintage Millennium Falcon is a totem that calls back to Christmases and birthdays long past when the forces of good and evil did battle on the living room shag carpet or the backyard sandbox.
They’re tactile anchors to deep-rooted emotional experiences, said Maria Valdovinos, a Drake University associate professor of psychology who specializes in behavior analysis.
“We strongly associate these objects with happy memories,” she said. “It’s not really about the toy itself, but the memories and feelings of when you had it.”
Valdovinos recalled her favorite toy as a child was an electronic gadget by Parker Bros. called Merlin. The burgundy computer, primitive by today’s standard, had a keypad with red lights and offered a variety of games, from playing songs to memorizing patterns.
“That was my favorite toy,” she said. “I would love to get my hands on a working one.”
Shreve understands Valdovinos’ insight. He used to work for a used DVD and CD chain. He took business classes at Des Moines Area Community College and the idea that became Jay’s CD and Hobby came to him in 2005.
“People come in and they see things and they say, ‘Oh, I had that’ or ‘Man, I always wanted that,’” Shreve said. “I get that. Everything in this store I was into at one time or another. Now adults have disposable income, and they can get that thing they could never get as a kid.”
Now, Shreve runs a small pop culture empire. There are three Jay’s stores: the home base on the south side of Des Moines, a shop on the upper level of Valley West Mall and another in Merle Hay Mall during the holidays.
My personal favorite is the Southeast 14th shop. It’s cluttered and somewhat disorganized, but it feels like discovering a box of your old favorite toys at a garage sale or your parents’ basement.
I sometimes wander the aisles for an hour or two looking at old toys that remind me of Christmas mornings in my robe and pajamas sprawled out on the living room floor with my late father, trying to figure out where to apply the stickers to my new G.I. Joe jeep.
The joy of a new toy on your first day brings an exuberance that’s hard to match in adult life. No craft brew or gourmet hamburger compares to the unbridled imagination unlocked by the tools of play.
Sure, adults are admonished to put away childish things. But movies about superheroes and space battles don’t make billions of dollars on the whims of children alone.
Once in a while, we all want to escape to a time when life was as simple and uncomplicated as plotting the next adventure, where good always defeated evil and we felt warm, safe and free.
Daniel P. Finney, The Register's Metro Voice columnist, is a Drake University alumnus who grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. Reach him at 515-284-8144 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @newsmanone.