Holiday toy store up and running again
URBANA — In the barnlike structure behind Ron and Joy Meyer's home are thousands of colorful toys, cleaned up and meticulously displayed on shelves.
There's Teddy Ruxpin, Fisher-Price Chatter Phones, stuffed animals, dinosaurs, farm toys, Hot Wheels cars, children's books, Christmas trees ... and a separate display room of Barbie dolls and accessories.
"It's hard for a person to comprehend how much is here," said Ron Meyer, whose family operates the new and used toy store on Fridays and Saturdays leading up to Christmas.
He figures the toy count is somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 items.
This is the fifth year the Meyer family has operated the store, which the family agrees is "a labor of love."
During the summer, Ron, Joy and their daughter Dee-Dee travel to flea markets and yard sales in eastern Illinois and western Indiana. Ron buys up toys, and starting in September, Joy and their daughter Dee-Dee clean them up.
"The dolls give them fits," Ron said. "They're the easiest to get dirty and the hardest to clean."
But eventually, mother and daughter purge the toys of Magic Marker, lipstick and crayon stains.
It's not an easy task, Dee-Dee said. Different types of plastic and rubber require different kinds of cleaning solutions. Joy brushes out the hair on dolls, and the women agree stuffed animals are among the most difficult to clean.
Dee-Dee also combs the Internet to track down serial numbers on toys and figure out what piece goes with what game and what figurines fit in an airplane.
"We've got a whole back room of pieces and parts," she said. "I do a lot of research. I'm a kid at heart."
Part of Ron's job is buying batteries for toys.
"We go through about 2,000 batteries a year to keep them going," he said.
Many toys are classics from the '70s, '80s, '90s and 2000s,
"A lot of them, you can't go to Walmart and pick them off the shelf," Dee-Dee said. "I like to see people go back to good toys and away from the electronics and (video) games."
The Meyers try to price the toys moderately so families of modest means can afford a lot.
Ron said the average price of items sold last weekend was $5.10 — but some toys are priced as low as 50 cents.
The store — located in the country about 1-1/2 miles northeast of Urbana — drew an estimated 35 to 40 people the Friday after Thanksgiving. Over the holiday season, the number of shoppers is expected to be in the low hundreds, not thousands.
"My bookkeeper said I lost $1,500 last year," Ron said, noting the cost of heat and lights. That doesn't count gasoline consumed traveling to flea markets.
But the Meyers draw a different dividend from the sales.
"What I enjoy is when someone comes in and gets enthusiastic that they can get something or other," Joy said.
"I enjoy the kids when they're well-behaved," Dee-Dee said. "Their eyes light up."
Ron said many customers "like the fact that we're recycling rather than taking it to the dump."
Some charities that once accepted used toys now take only new toys, he noted.
The store also attracts groups that help people in need. One church group was "ecstatic" with how many toys it could buy for a Christmas party, Joy said.
Ron Meyer said young adults served by the Developmental Services Center stopped by to pick out items.
And Dee-Dee said the Salvation Army sent a family whose home had been damaged by fire.
"The fire victims were so overwhelmed," she said. "They had nothing left for their children."
Ron Meyer, 75, operated two Texaco stations in Champaign during the mid-1960s — one at the southeast corner of Springfield and Prospect avenues and one on Springfield just west of Mattis Avenue. From 1968 to 1995, he had the Tom's Peanuts and Potato Chips vending franchise for this area.
Joy had her own business as well, operating the Fluff & Groom grooming salon for dogs.
The couple has been married 56 years, and Ron figures the toy store "is something we can do together, and that's the main thing."
Ron has been active in the local American Business Clubs (AMBUCS) chapter, helping to build playground equipment in AMBUCS Park on East University Avenue in Urbana.
"I never had any toys when I was a kid," he said. "We had to work."
The only thing he remembers getting for Christmas as a kid was a phonograph record.
"We come from a different generation," Joy said. "Our Christmas was not a lot of toys or clothes. It was the dinner, the grandparents, maybe one toy for all of us to play with."
Ron said he explored the idea of leasing space in town for the toy store, but found it cost-prohibitive.
"We've been here 42 years," he said. "It would seem odd to go somewhere else."
The toy store has three more weekends — today, Dec. 13-14 and Dec. 20-21.
When those are over, "I'm hoping we have only a third of it left," Joy said.
"I'll be happy if it's half," Dee-Dee said.
MEYER'S NEW AND USED TOY STORE
When open: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, Dec. 13-14 and Dec. 20-21.
Where to find it: 2812 E. Oaks Road, U. Take U.S. 45 a half-mile north of Farm & Fleet, turn east on Oaks Road and go 1 mile to the store. It will be on your left.
Phone: 369-3425. If no answer, call 367-2327.