Reflections on the Passing of a New York Landmark Toy Shop

Marx Motorcycles in ShowcaseMore than a year has gone by since Second Childhood, New York City's most distinguished antique toy emporium shuttered its gates for the last time, and yet even now I cannot walk past the Greenwich Village site (now a woman's clothing store) without a sharp twinge of nostalgia - not only for the shop but for earlier decades when old toy soldiers and other antique toys were an important part of my life.

Barclay Ice Saters and other Toys

Now retired after nearly 40 years of running the business, Grover Van Dexter (who prefers to be called Van) happily reminisces about the early years when a cast-iron Hubley touring car (now selling for $3,000 and up) could have been had for less than $200. "It was fun being in business then," he recently recalled. "The hobby of collecting old toys was in its prime. Not a day passed when someone would bring in a suitcase full of toys fresh out of an attic. All those wonderful treasures."

Van in his element

The former proprietor, who started the shop on a shoestring in 1969, and closed it after nearly 40 years because of changing economic times and rapacious landlords, observed that "e-bay has killed a lot of small businesses. Today it seems that people only want junk food and overpriced boutiques."

For me, Second Childhood - what a great name for an antique toy shop - was not only a place to buy unusual old toy soldiers, but it was also a hangout for toy lovers, with a clubby atmosphere. I could always count on a phone call from Van when something special came in. One time it was a set of 70mm Heyde American Indians in its original box; another time a group of scarce Minikin Samurai Warriors. Once it was a frantic call about a group of boxed Authenticast World War I sets. "Better hurry up, these won't last long," Van exclaimed. I did and I got the sets.

There was always something new, here some Marx Motorcycles

In going through my files, I recently came across some photos of Second Childhood that I took just before it closed, and I am happy to share these with you. In the first, we see Van at his usual post behind the front counter attending to customers. Behind him is the shop's trademark carousel horse (which now stands in the bedroom of his nearby apartment). The second photo features a group of Barclay American dimestore ice skaters and other winter figures, along with Teddy Bears and a clown toy, and in the third photo we see two Marx motorcyclists who seem ready to race out the door.

All that is gone now, and all that remains are the happy memories of pleasant afternoons spent in the lovely atmosphere of a wonderful adult playland, in the company of a charming gentleman. At this writing, Van is as spry and chipper as ever, having just celebrated his 89th birthday. If the shop had survived until this summer, it would have had its 40th birthday. I miss the shop , but I still enjoy my telephone chats and luncheons with Van Dexter.

donjwhistance
donjwhistance on August 05, 2016

...

Can anyone tell me the exact address where Van lived along with Steve McQueen please: www.DonInNewYork.com
Tom1
Tom1 on October 02, 2009

Those were the days

I remember a similar shop over here, it was toyfair on demand!
GunnerJim
GunnerJim on October 02, 2009

89 now that is something

Yes changing times, modernisation and eBay and other outlets on-line is not the same atmosphere like browsing before you buy or even just for a look has that different feel about it.
Joschik
Joschik on August 17, 2009

A real treat

I did an exchange in 1993 at NYU and often visited the shop, it was like being back to be a child and visiting a toy shop - I loved it.
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