By Spencer DuBoff
The year 2020 has had a massive, transformative and global negative impact on small businesses. For restaurateurs, this meant only offering take-out and mass layoffs. For other outlets, that meant going out of business (albeit permanently.) Rockland County, in particular, immediately felt the effects of Covid-19, with a swift shutdown of all businesses deemed non-essential and Covid protocols. -19 implemented across the county. For many, it was the start of a nightmare. But for the ToyWiz team in Nanuet, the closure was an opportunity to rework their business. Beginning as “Wizard of Cards and Comics” and originally located across from the old Nanuet indoor shopping center, the company that would eventually come to be known as “Wizard World” in the 1990s was founded by Martin Shamus (1941-2019) and his wife, Susan. Shamus’ passion for collecting vintage sports memorabilia eventually developed to include other hobbies he shared with his son, Kenny (the current owner), such as comics, maps Pokémon, Beanie Babies, and other toys and collectibles. Longtime employee and commercial operator JD shared his nearly 30-year history.
“I was hired in 1995 at the age of 15. We really started to grow as a business because card games really started to take off. “
For all the kids of the ’80s and’ 90s reading, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. These dedicated franchises exploded as a result of classic RPGs (think Dungeons and Dragons) which were later adapted in the ’90s into collectible card games. Many would grow into huge franchises which still generate millions in revenue to this day!
“Magic the Gathering” hit the scene, and it was awesome. This was followed by Pokémon, which was followed by Yu-Gi-Oh !, and so on. JD would spend his late teens and much of his young adult life at Wizard World, where he began hosting events and tournaments centered around these games.
“It was awesome! It was awesome to see, and it was awesome to be at the center of such a giant community; we would just be standing, the pinnacle of card games!”
ToyWiz’s selection has never been limited to in-store exclusives. Demand for the products led them to launch their own website in 2001. And while this led to a business boom 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 continuing my studies, or settling and growing with the company. I chose the latter. The decision ultimately turned out to be the right one, as Wizard World, since renamed ToyWiz, opened a warehouse and finally found its home over the past 10 years, on Route 59 in Nanuet. After the unfortunate death of Martin Shamus, JD finally had the opportunity to “revitalize” ToyWiz, as the Shamus family had chosen to stay behind the scenes. With current store manager Clifford and social media rep Samir, the team shares a passion for nerd culture and their work in the store. ToyWiz has become famous not only for its huge catalog in store and online, but also for its sense of community and culture that you won’t find in big outlet stores.
“Before, e-commerce was just another alternative, whereas today it has become the norm,” observed JD. “Our competition used to be local comic book and card stores. There are fewer of these now, so our competition eventually becomes Target, Walmart and Amazon, and all online retailers. During the pandemic, it was businesses that benefited the most. However, as JD observed, these companies are ultimately doing nothing for their community.
“It’s a big difference there, but ultimately these don’t serve a community, which is our goal. Our company does not sell things, you can buy things anywhere. Our job is the experience, the history that you get by coming here.
Samir, who over the past eight months has become something of a corporate mascot, added: “When I first took control of our stage, our stage was sort of dead, because of Covid-19. Konami (the distribution company of Yu-Gi-Oh! Which sanctions the legitimacy of card tournaments) had finally let us start hosting tournaments again in July, so I jumped on it and started organizing tournaments Samir’s passion for Yu-Gi-Oh! started when he was only 5 years old, and that is what eventually led him to land a job at ToyWiz.
“You can buy these cards anywhere for the same price. But you go to GameStop or whatever, they’re there to sell you cards. You come here and I know the product; I am ready to talk to you, give you product knowledge, interact with you and invite you to one of our tournaments. It’s about being there for the players, that’s what they care about at the end of the day. “
Reinforcing a sense of community, Samir has developed a personal relationship with many ToyWiz staff and regulars. “I came by one day, and this group of players who come to the Duel Shop recreated a Deck that I had since I was a kid!” They all participated and personally gave it to me. Honestly, it made me cry, it was the coolest thing.
Since reopening after the pandemic, ToyWiz’s new vision, leadership and family and community sense have welcomed many new customers from across the country. “We had a guy from Georgia. Says Clifford, who, in addition to his new role as Store Manager, also managed the ToyWiz Warehouse
“My favorite thing is seeing people’s faces when they first walk in, especially children. They stop and stare and it takes a few minutes for them to figure out where they are. For Clifford, who spent the first few months of the pandemic completely remodeling the storefront, aesthetics are paramount.
“When you’ve seen one Walmart, you’ve seen them all. We want people to come 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 no other. Because ToyWiz is unlike any other. “One day a guy brought his five-year-old son from Connecticut,” JD said.
“Her 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 of nerd culture that invites fans and enthusiasts to come together and share their interests. “We really want to expand our community, attract more players to tournaments,” said Clifford. “We want to give back. We want to be the next Toys R Us ”
Asked about his team and his ultimate plans for the future, JD replied this; “The people who work here are just 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 prepared.
Toy Wiz is open seven days a week, with events and tournaments every weekend.