Written by Chris Boyle, firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 13 December 2013 00:00
The toy biz sure has changed in recent years.
No longer the sole domain of kids, toy collecting has evolved to include an ever-increasing adult segment of the market; grown men (and yes, women too) who devote a sizable amount of their time and income placating their inner child, proving that while everyone grows up, it’s important to remain young at heart.
The industry itself has also changed to reflect this growing trend, creating a market that produces sophisticated, cutting-edge collectible figures and memorabilia based on a variety of subjects, ranging from movies, comic books, and more; in addition, vintage toys of years past remain sought-after by collectors.
Catering to this sizable cross-section of consumers for the past 23 years and counting is Hicksville’s Amok Time. Started by Paul Lazo, the store specializes in both modern and vintage toys and collectables as well as comic books, and has enjoyed significant growth over the years. Lazo said that this comes from knowing the rules of running a successful business.
“The businesses that stay around are the ones that do two things: one, work their butts off, and two, understand who they’re selling to and what they want,” he said. “If a regular person came in here, they wouldn’t get it. But a collector comes in and they’d be like, ‘oh, you have the Godzilla from 1954,’ or ‘you have the Lon Chaney version of Frankenstein.’ That’s what they come in for, and if you understand who you’re selling to, you’ll do okay.”
Born and raised in East Meadow, Lazo came into the hobby that would eventually become his life’s calling at an early age.
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money, which is probably why I got into this more,” he said. “And when all my friends got older and grew out of toys and comic books, I was only too happy to take them off their hands, so I soon had all the stuff I didn’t have as a kid.”
Eventually, he accumulated enough toys that he decided to visit a local comic book dealer show to try and sell off some of his extra stuff; however, those used to the hustle and bustle of today’s popular toy and comic book conventions would balk at the initial state of the scene back when Lazo first attempted to get in on it.
“The toy thing hadn’t caught on yet, it’s not like today where you have toys and videos everywhere you look,” he said. “Back then it was a room of maybe 12 guys selling comics, maybe one baseball card guy, and I was the only one selling toys.”
However, that show yielded him an unexpected success. Despite simply unloading surplus vintage Star Wars, superhero and monster memorabilia, he was surprised at his nearly $200 take for the day. At the time he was 18, starting college, and working two jobs, but that day opened his eyes to another possible avenue for his life to take.
That first show led to more, which led to an ad in a toy magazine; before he knew it, Lazo was getting calls from not only around the country, but even around the world.
“I got a call from Japan, and the guy spoke no real English, but he spoke it decently enough to say, ’Luke Skywalker...12-pack...want to buy.’ And he was able to give his credit card number,” he said. “After the first week, I got so many calls that I knew this would be something to keep me busy.”
Lazo was one semester away from entering into a Master’s Degree program for Law when he finally decided that wasn’t the life for him; he then broke the news to his folks that he wanted to leave school and sell toys for a living. Needless to say, the news initially didn’t go over well, he said.
“They were NOT happy to hear that,” he laughed. “But my parents started to work with me about a year after I made the decision. My dad passed away 10 years ago, and my mom’s been working here now for 22 years.”
What would one day become Amok Time originally began in Lazo’s bedroom in his parent’s house — a 20x10 converted garage with his bed located up in the garage’s rafters. But this space quickly proved inadequate, and eventually he and his friends, including current Amok Time’s manager Peter Dupree, decided to open their first retail storefront in 1994 in Levittown.
Several years and moves later, the store settled into their current home at 108C New South Road in Hicksville, which has plenty of storage space to accommodate the 70 percent of their business that comes from internet sales.
“We liked the old location (in Levittown), but as nice as the showroom was, you have to stick with what’s making your money. The walk-in traffic was fine, but we were doing more business online and we really needed a warehouse,” he said. “The walk-in area of the store is smaller now, but we actually have an area where a forklift can take everything into a warehouse instead of having to carry everything into a basement. It’s a better way for a business to be run.”
About six years ago, Lazo expanded in another way — he started the Amok Time toy brand and has manufactured several action figures, dolls, and statues inspired by various personal favorite properties of his that he felt were under-represented in the collector’s marketplace. Boasting high-quality paint jobs and detailed sculpts produced by some of the most well-known members of the toy industry, Amok Time figures are available in stores nation-wide and are based on cult horror films such as Day of the Dead, Blacula, Re-Animator, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
“I was in the gift store at Universal Studios in California with my family, and they had some of the statues that we made there," he said. “That to me is where I’d like to see our business go, to see little bits of us straight from Hicksville, NY, and if you go to a comic book store in Wisconsin or California, and you see our Elvira figure.”
But at the end of the day, Lazo judges true success on the same merits that anyone should; getting to make a living doing something that both he and his co-workers passionately enjoy.
“It’s something that we all love, and I think that’s the key to any business. If you don’t like that you’re doing, there’s no way to fake that,” he said. “Our prices are competitive, and our business is a business of merchandise and of customer service. If you come in here any day, no matter if our mood is good or bad, we all love what we do, and it shows.”