Unwrap Christmases’ past
Beloved boxed action figures and dolls from the 20th century line the aisles of three independently owned vintage toy stores.
John Wineberger poses with a Storm Trooper helmet and a figure of a ghost from Ghostbusters at Up in The Attic Toys on East Silver Springs Boulevard in Ocala on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
The market for vintage toys and collectibles has grown like a Hungry Hungry Hippo in the past couple of years.
Whether it’s the nostalgia they impart, their durability or how cool they look on a knickknack shelf, playthings from the past are in higher demand than ever, a trend reported by MarketDecipher.com.
Even retail outlets as far-ranging as GameStop and Target stock “retro toys.”
Big box stores and eBay, however, aren’t consumers’ only options for brick-and-mortar, vintage toy shopping. Ocala-based independent retailers such as Vintage Toy King, Up in the Attic Toys and Vintage Toy Universe stock vintage games, action figures, comics and other collectibles.
According to John Wineberger, who runs Up in the Attic Toys on E Silver Springs Boulevard (in the Hillside Shopping Center anchored by Big Lots), “buying local” isn’t just good for the soul; it saves money, too.
“We’re actually lowering our prices to draw people into our stores,” Wineberger said, comparing his shop to the big-box experience. “Understanding the inflation and possible recession that everybody’s going through, we are not raising our prices.”
There’s always the dickering factor, too. For instance, you can’t walk into a Walmart and ask if you can have three items priced $40 or more for $100, but negotiating isn’t frowned upon at local vintage toy shops like Up in the Attic Toys, owned by Wineberger’s wife of 22 years, Zenaida “Sandy” Wineberger.
“She’s Hispanic and I am a veteran, so we like to say our store is woman-and minority-owned and veteran-operated,” John Wineberger added, expressing pride.
Born in 1971, the Desert Storm vet was once deployed to Kuwait. He grew up in west/southwest central Florida, moving around often, but one thing remained consistent: his mom gifting him “Star Wars” figures and spaceships.
“I was a big “Star Wars” kid in the ‘70s,’’ he said. “I remember seeing “Star Wars” in Fort Myers and my mom popping popcorn for us that she snuck into the theater.”
His business sense, however, comes from his dad, who lived in Zephyrhills, where Wineberger lived for a few years.
“The good thing about my dad was he made me earn my money,” Wineberger said. “I picked up lawn mowing jobs, and I only charged $5 a lawn, so I would take that money and run up to Eckerd Drug and I would buy stuff for myself, whether it was magazines or G.I. Joe figures.”
Later in life, Wineberger worked for a company that sold electronic components used in space exploration. He has since decided to leave aerospace to return to the “Star Wars” universe and hasn’t looked back.
In 2015, he maxed out his credit card at Emerald City Comics, Games and Toys in Clearwater to purchase the “Star Wars” toys he once owned as a child and then some. He sold some items and bought some more, growing his collection bigger and bigger. Not long after, a vendor invited him to sell items at the Oldsmar Flea Market, and his store kept growing into multiple booths until he decided to move his family from Palm Harbor to Ocala three years ago to open Up in the Attic Toys.The store’s name came to Wineberger when he told his wife about a boxed Millennium Falcon spaceship he wanted to purchase from a private buyer. It was “up in the attic,” he recalled.
“On average, we price everything around 20% below eBay,” Wineberger assured.
The buy-sell-and-trade store features boxed/mint-condition toys, die-cast race cars and other favorites from past decades in addition to more current collectibles, including Pokémon and Funko Pops.
Prices can range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, and more. A Spider-Man 2099 AD recently sold for $350. A 1983 Kenner “Star Wars” Ewok Princess Kennessa Plush runs for $50, and a pack of new Pokémon trading cards costs $4.99.
“We will offer 25% off for customers who mention they saw the story in the Gazette,” Wineberger cheerily added.
A harmonious playgroup
Ocala vintage toy shop owners have commented more than once about how they are part of a cooperative, friendly community who share leads and information with one another.
It’s not uncommon to see Wineberger dropping into Vintage Toy King in search of action figures or to chat with owner Kelly Leslie.
Also located on Silver Springs Boulevard a few doors down from the Chelsea Coffee Company, Vintage Toy King stocks antiques and collectibles.
Leslie began collecting toys during his tween years in the early 1980s. His granddad would buy him “Star Wars” figures for Christmas and his birthday, and for helping him mow the grass or pull weeds. Unlike the many moms and granddads who chucked or donated rare trading cards, comic books and toys to charity, Leslie’s grandfather got him on the right track as a collector by developing a system to note every time his grandson got a new “Star Wars” or G.I. Joe action figure.
The shop, which opened in 2014, specializes in ’70s and ’80s toys but now has a few older and newer items.
Leslie operates the shop with his wife, Dawn. In the past eight years, Vintage Toy King has expanded its inventory to include toys from the ’60s through the 2000s. Brand names include Barbie, G.I. Joe, Transformers, “Star Wars,” LEGO, Beyblade, “Lord of the Rings,” “Jurassic Park/World,” “Godzilla,” plush, “The Simpsons” and “Ghostbusters.”
At Jasmine Plaza in southwest Ocala, the Vintage Toy Universe celebrated its first-year anniversary last month and offers its own niche as well as recurring specials. The shop offers a vast selection of merchandise, from wrestling dolls to 1990s-era Nintendo games to an assortment of autographed memorabilia.
“I love this place!” effused Vintage Toy Universe customer and Facebook reviewer Tara Saia, who “highly” recommends the store for its friendly service and hard-to-find items.
Like the other toy shops, the Universe is also buy, sell and trade. A banner over the front section reads, “We are not Walmart. We accept offers.”
Vintage Toy Universe is located at the Jasmine Plaza at 6152 SW Highway 200, Unit 111. For more information, call 352-239-5774 or visit vintagetoyuniverse.com.
Vintage Toy King is at 3225 E Silver Springs Blvd.; call (352) 502-6622 or visit vintagetoyking.com.
Up in the Attic Toys can be found at 2693 E Silver Springs Blvd.; for more information, call 727-614-2870 or visit facebook.com/upintheattictoys.