The year 2020 had a massive, transformative, and overall negative impact on small business. For restaurant owners, it meant offering take-out only and mass layoffs. For other retail outlets, it meant closing up shop (even permanently.) Rockland County ,in particular, felt the effects of Covid-19 immediately, with a rapid shutdown of all businesses deemed non-essential, and Covid-19 protocols implemented countywide. For many, this was the beginning of a nightmare. But for the team over at ToyWiz in Nanuet, the shut down was an opportunity to rework thier bussiness. Beginning as “Wizard of Cards and Comics” and originally located across from the former indoor Nanuet Mall, the company that would eventually be known as “Wizard World” in the 90’s was founded by Martin Shamus (1941-2019) and his wife, Susan. Shamus’ passion for collecting vintage sports memorabilia eventually grew to include other hobbies he shared with his son, Kenny (the current owner) such as comic books, Pokémon cards, Beanie Babies, and other toys and collectibles. Longtime employee and Business Operator JD shared his near 30-year story.
“ I was hired in 1995 when I was 15. We really started growing as a company, as card games really started to hit their boom.”
For any 80’s and 90’s kids reading, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. These dedicated franchises exploded as a result of the classic Role-playing games (think Dungeons and Dragons) that were later adapted in the 90’s as trading card games. Many would grow into huge franchises that are still making millions in revenue to this day!
“Magic the Gathering’ hit the scene, and that was tremendous. That was followed up by Pokémon, which was followed up by Yu-Gi-Oh!, and so on.” JD would spend his late youth and much of his young adult life at Wizard World, where he began to organize events and tournaments centered around these games.
“It was awesome! It was great to see, and it was great to be at the center of such a giant community; we would be standing room only, the heyday of card games!”
ToyWiz’s selection was never limited to just in store exclusives. Product demand led to them launching their own Website in 2001. And while this led to a boom in business for the company, it meant that JD would ultimately have to make a very important decision.
“I had to choose between continuing my academic career, and furthering my education, or settling down, and growing with the company. I chose the latter.” The move ultimately proved to be the right one, as Wizard World, since rebranded as ToyWiz, opened up a warehouse, and has finally found its home for the past 10 years, on Route 59 in Nanuet. After the unfortunate passing of Martin Shamus, JD was eventually given the opportunity to “revitalize” ToyWiz, as the Shamus family had chosen to remain behind the scenes. Together with current Store Manger Clifford, and Social Media rep Samir, the team share a passion for nerd culture and their work at the store. ToyWiz has become celebrated not only for their massive in-store and online catalog, but for a sense of community and culture you won’t find at larger outlet stores.
“Ecommerce before, was just another alternative, whereas now, it has become the standard,” JD observed. “Our competition before used to be local comic book and card stores. Fewer of those exist now, so our competition ultimately becomes Target, Walmart, and Amazon, and all the online retailers.” During the pandemic, those were the business that were profiting the most. However, as JD observed, those businesses ultimately do nothing for their community.
“It’s a big difference there, but ultimately, those don’t serve a community, whereas that is our goal. Our business isn’t selling things, you can buy stuff anywhere. Our business is the experience, the story you get when coming in here.”
Samir, who in the past eight months has grown to become something of a mascot to the company, added “When I first took over our scene was kind of dead, because of Covid-19. Konami (the distribution company for Yu-Gi-Oh! who sanction the legitimacy of card tournaments) had finally let us start running tournaments again in July, so I jumped all on that and started organizing tournaments.” Samir’s passion for Yu-Gi-Oh! started when he was only 5, and it ultimately is what lead to him earning a job at ToyWiz.
“You can buy these cards anywhere for the same price. But you go to GameStop or wherever, they’re there to sell you cards. You come here, and I know about the product; I am willing to talk to you, to give you product knowledge, to trade with you and invite you to one of our tournaments. It’s about being there for the players, that’s what they ultimately care about.”
Reinforcing the sense of community, Samir has developed a personal relationship with many of the ToyWiz staff and regulars. “ I came in one day, and this group of players that come to the shop to Duel recreated a Deck I had from childhood! They all chipped in and personally gave it to me. It honestly made me tear up, it was the coolest thing.”
Since reopening post-pandemic, ToyWiz’s new vision, leadership, and sense of family and community has welcomed in many new clients from across the country. “We had a guy come all the way from Georgia.” says Clifford, who in addition to his new duties as a store manager, has also managed the ToyWiz Warehouse
“My favorite thing is seeing people’s faces when they first walk in, especially kids. They just stop and stare and it takes them a few minutes to process where they are.” For Clifford, who spent the early months of the Pandemic completely remodeling the front of the store, aesthetic is everything .
“ When you’ve seen one Walmart, you’ve seen them all. We want people to come in and say, “Okay, I know what I want, but I wasn’t expecting all of this.” More than anything, ToyWiz aims to create an experience like none other. Because ToyWiz, is like none other. “We had a guy bring his five-year-old son from Connecticut one day, said JD
““His son had never been to a toy store before. We made sure he had a special memory and he loved it.”
ToyWiz is not just a toy store, but a hub for nerd culture that invites fans and hobbyists to get together and share their interests . “We really just want to expand our community, get more players in for tournaments” said Clifford. “We want to give back. We want to be the next Toys R Us”
When asked about his team,and his ultimate plans for the future, JD had this to say; “The people who work here are every bit as important as the product. If we don’t take care of them, they don’t take care of us. The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is well proofed.”
Toy Wiz is opened seven days a week, with events and tournaments happening every weekend.