NEW BRITAIN - Doing something one loves while bringing joy to others isnâ€™t a job many come to have in life, but for nearly 50 years, business owners Steve and Sheri Amato of Amato Toy and Hobby lived that life.
Like all good things, though, Steve said, they have their end.
â€śIt was a hard road to get to and we knew it was going to come some day,â€ť he said. â€śI cleared it with (the children) because they arenâ€™t interested and I canâ€™t do it forever. It fell into place. I got an offer from a developer and some of my key people want to retire. You put that all together and it just made sense.â€ť
Amato said an arrangement was made with Jasko Development for the purchase of the Amato Toy and Hobby building and its last slated sale will be Feb. 28. Jasko Development is creating new apartments in downtown New Britain.
â€śAs soon as my wife Sheri put it on social media around noon (Wednesday), by 12:30, there was a line of people at the register right until 6 when we closed,â€ť the shop owner said. â€śI knew this had been coming for several months but we held off. We wanted to have a regular Christmas and not make everybody sad and I didnâ€™t want to be sad. The developer also needed to work out some details.â€ť
Amato said heâ€™s been blessed despite difficult times, but heâ€™s gotten to do something heâ€™s loved for nearly 50 years, and itâ€™s left an impression on those around him. While the New Britain Herald was speaking with the shop owner, a few customers stopped by and wished him well and said they would miss seeing him after being patrons for so many years.
â€śIâ€™ve got to watch kids grow up and bring their kids in,â€ť he said. â€śSome of them even bring their grandkids. Talk about feeling old, I bought some collections that I remember selling new and now theyâ€™re antique.â€ť
Among some of his favorite memories, Amato said one that stood out was when Amato Toy and Hobby served as the setting of the movie â€śA Very Merry Toy Store,â€ť featuring Melissa Joan Hart and Mario Lopez. Made for the Lifetime network and released in 2017, the movie focuses on the relationship of two formerly rival toy store owners who join forces to take on the new big box store opening in town.
Amato said he and his wife were at a local restaurant and they started speaking with another individual having dinner nearby. That person had a movie company out of Rocky Hill. While the shop owner and his wife were camping, he received a phone call asking if it was possible Amato Toy and Hobby could be rented as a set for the movie.
â€śWe made a deal with them and the city was great with them,â€ť Amato said. â€śThey rewrote the script and made the (fictional) toy stores in New Britain and it was written in. All the in-store stuff was here. They did stuff in the park. They had a winter festival and had this big winter carnival in August with all these people with coats and scarves on. That was a fun experience.â€ť
The toy store owner also noted some of his favorite memories were the times Amato Toy and Hobby contributed to charities. When Baton Rouge, Louisiana, flooded out a few years after Hurricane Katrina, Amato suggested to his wife that they drive there with a trailer full of toys to hand out to affected families.
â€śWe put the word out and within five days we raised about 5 or $6,000 and dealt with our suppliers. We were able to parlay that into about $40,000 worth of toys. â€śWe filled a van and put our luggage on the carry-all behind the truck and drove three days to Baton Rouge and donated it to the Salvation Army,â€ť he said.
Amato said he thought to himself that when he was a child, the next worst thing to losing his family would have been losing his prized Matchbox car collection. That was partly what drove him to bring toys to families who had their possessions destroyed in the floods.
Amato said his father first bought a store in New Britain in the 1950s and started another in Middletown in the 1940s. Amatoâ€™s sister still operates the one in Middletown. Amato Toy and Hobby moved into its current location in 1974.
â€śThat was a big year for me,â€ť he said. â€śI graduated high school. I got married and I took over running the store and have been running it ever since. My wife and I took over ownership roughly 10 years ago.â€ť
Offering a few last words of wisdom, the shop owner told young adults to find a career they love because theyâ€™ll be better at it.
â€śYou gotta put food on the table. I get that, but long term, try to find something you love. As long as you make enough to take care of yourself, liking what you do is more important than what kind of car you have,â€ť Amato said.