Nostalgia rules the day at the Columbus Toy Show

Twice a year Veterans Memorial here in Columbus becomes Memory Lane, a place where you can find every toy you ever owned, every beloved action figure you ever destroyed or your mom ever threw out because you were “too old” or, worst of all, the wrong gender. Now, thanks to the Columbus Toy Show (CTS), you can own them all over again.

CTS is where small business meets the increasingly corporate-dominated collectible toy industry. Held in April and September at Vets Memorial (with a June show at Fort Rapids), the show draws toy sellers from all over the Midwest who make their living, or at least supplement their incomes, selling everything from antique toy trains to the latest “third-party” Transformers-inspired action figures. Rainbow herds of My Little Ponies roam alongside stacks of humorously grotesque, early-90s-bright Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures still sealed up in their original packages, begging to be opened. Brand-new miniature versions of Pacific Rim's kaijus and jagers hang from pegs near 12” recreations of Iron Man from Marvel's The Avengers rendered by a Japanese toy company in such loving detail that they look more like Robert Downey Jr. than the actor does himself. And behind each table is a small business, many of them local.

For your humble Geek Speak reporter, the Sunday (September 15) show was my second one as a dealer. In a hobby that sometimes made me uncomfortable with its dependence on overseas manufacturing and marketing brands to children, CTS was a welcome break from big-box stores. Saturday night setup filled the parking lot with trailer-lugging vehicles and even the occasional small box truck with a store's logo emblazoned on the side and a URL for their online shop. Many had call-outs such as “Always Buying Toys!” to welcome those sitting on childhood stashes they didn't have the time or energy to sort through and list on eBay. For the biggest dealers, like Big Fun Toy Store in the Short North (who also had a table at the show), that's where the bulk of their merchandise comes from. Twice over the course of the weekend I had other dealers sell me toys cheap that were included in collections but which they didn't know anything about or which didn't fit into what they sold but which were right up my alley. That's all a part of the communal nature of the show. Toy dealers do compete against each other, but they compliment each other as well: One dealer might focus on Barbies, another on Transformers, another on Hot Wheels, and with such a broad market there's room for everyone.

The Columbus Toy Show itself feels low-budget in a good way. Admission is only $5 and tables are $55 – compared to $45 for at-the-door tickets for the now corporate-run Ohio Comic Con and $500 for a table. The organizers are friendly and love to see people coming to the show in costume. Saturday night setup even included free pizza from show sponsor Papa John's. Among all the high-profile, high-end gaming, comic, anime and sci-fi conventions hosted here, CTS is a refreshingly friendly, homey event, and though most of what I sell is from my own collection, I always look forward to spending a weekend being a part of that community.

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