GIRARD — The typical reaction from customers when they first step foot into Sweet Memories Vintage Tees & Candy is that of awe, said the retro candy and T-shirt store owner Linda Barton.
They’re flooded with memories of candy and sodas from their childhood, and often say out loud, “I remember these, I remember these,” Barton said.
Well, it’s that same sort of experience Barton wants to re-create with a new toy store, a 2,500-square-foot space filled with retro toys that span decades, from the official Big Wheel to Lite-Brite to Shrinky Dinks to all sorts of board games, including Operation , Twister, Mouse Trap, and action figures, from G.I. Joe to Star Wars to pop culture and movie figures.
“I wanted to have everything from grandparents to young kids,” Barton said of how she curated the selection.
The space, an extension of the candy and T-shirt store on Trumbull Avenue in Girard, also gives a nod to local history through a partnership with the Idora Park Experience, which has provided items from its collection — one of the large metal “Kiddieland Soldiers” that once guarded the entrance to Kiddieland at the former amusement park in Youngstown and a Porky the Paper Eater — to display.
The partnership with the Canfield-based organization also includes a licensing agreement for Barton to sell a line of Idora Park apparel and soda, of which a portion of the proceeds will go to the organization to help it continue to preserve artifacts in its collection.
It was August when Barton said she decided to expand the store to include toys, so she went about putting together a list of the top 10 toys from each decade starting with the 1940s and set out trying to source the items.
In September, she was at a toy fair at the Javits Center in New York City, where she said she spent about $150,000 to stock the store.
“After that, the shipments started coming in,” Barton said, snapping her fingers.
Around the same time, she set out to renovate the space at the store, which previously was used for storage for the candy and T-shirt store. She invested another $50,000 to redo the floors and ceiling, improve the heating and ventilation system and install a glass door.
“It was fun doing the research,” Barton said. “I do things really quick.”
On Wednesday, a ribbon was cut to celebrate the new space that coincided with its soft opening. A grand opening is scheduled for Black Friday, Nov. 24.
On Nov. 25, Santa Claus will be at the store, and there will be a rum cake tasting with Tortuga Rum Cakes that are stocked in the candy store. Also, the candy and T-shirt store will launch its line of Goetze Candy Company — the maker of Cow Tails and Caramel Creams — candy and T-shirts.
Barton said she purchased toys from at least 20 companies. The store’s inventory contains items suitable for all ages, from adults who want the toy they had or wanted as a child to items appropriate for children and toddlers.
Among the items, there is a large retro electric football game, the original Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, Fashion Plate — one of Barton’s favorites — and Sit ‘n Spin. There’s also trains from Lionel, a wall of action figures, another wall of Pez, all sorts of board games, Nerf, Fisher Price and creative- and STEM-related items.
In addition, she stocked a woman astronaut figure.
“That’s why I bought them, I’ve never seen a woman astronaut before,” Barton said.
She also stocks Lego, but to do so she had to be approved by the company by submitting a business plan, allowing them to review three years of her financial records and she had to undergo a background check.
“I designed the aesthetic so when people come in, they see the stuff the remember,” she said.
Barton said she met Jim and Toni Amey, owners of the Idora Park Experience, at the this year’s Canfield Fair. The three came to an agreement that lets Barton sell a line of officially licensed park T-shirts and sodas. A percentage of the soda sales and $5 for every T-shirt sold goes back to the Idora Park Experience to help preserve and restore park items.
Other new licenses for T-shirts include Goetze, Beemans gum, Bazooka Joe, Chupa Chups lollipops and Mentos.
The licenses join dozens of others, including Good Humor, Isaly’s, Dots, Junior Mints, Dum-Dums, Necco, Klondike, Peeps, Smarties, Breyers, Popsicle and more.
The store also has clothing licensed from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, the National Packard Museum in Warren and shirts of St. Anthony, St. Francis and Padre Pio.
In all instances, a portion of the sale is donated.
From the food, candy and sweets-related shirts, money is given to Akron Children’s Hospital. So far, Barton said, she’s donated about $40,000 to the hospital system, which she credits with saving her daughter’s life when she was young.
Akron Children’s has since named a room at its hospital in Boardman because of her generosity. Sweet Memories Vintage Tees is room No. 247 at the facility.
The military line benefits a moral program that helps members of the military suffering from post traumatic stress disorder; the Packard line goes back to the museum; and the Saints line goes to the Franciscan Friars of Youngstown.