By Brianna Staudt–
It immediately catches the eye of any child walking down Main Street in Tarrytown: a Ferris wheel, as tall as a grownup, built out of K’NEX spinning in a window.
Soon, the iconic hook for A NU Toy Store will be gone, sent home to the winner of a raffle, as Nu Toy owner Angel Rafter prepares to close her doors on May 31. Rafter sadly recalls the “perfect” potential buyer she found after a months-long search. The party could not reach an agreement with her landlord that would allow them to purchase the business.
“I’m so sorry. I really tried. I really tried. And that’s what I want people to know,” Rafter says. “I know how important a toy store is for the kids. And I wanted it to stay so badly. And just because my personal life is forcing us to do something different, I didn’t want it to change for the community.”
A NU Toy Store, designed with Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium in mind, first opened down the street at 38 ½ Main in 2008 with unopened toys Rafter’s sons, then 3 and almost 7, had accumulated. But, as Rafter explains, she couldn’t visualize her dream in the smaller space. She jumped on the opportunity to move up the street when 16 Main became available. It’s been home ever since.
The store stands out for its play stations and its offering of a wide variety of toys — trendy toys, hard-to-find toys, used toys, and vintage toys, such as Collector Edition Barbies and old Star Wars figures. Rafter was the first in the area to sell “pre-loved” LEGO sets. The founding premise was to offer a toy for every kid, at all price points. “NU” stands for “new and used.”
Tarrytown resident Fiona Galloway’s daughter is about the same age as A NU Toy Store. Her favorite toys, including a pink-and-purple fairy princess castle, were purchased there. Galloway refers to the store as a “kid version of a coffee shop” — what Coffee Labs is to Tarrytown adults, A Nu Toy Store is to Tarrytown kids. Her favorite memory at the store is watching her daughter in a heap of local kids listening on the floor to a reading by Nick Bruel of one of the books in his “Bad Kitty” series.
“Target has a nice selection of toys, but they don’t host trash treasure hunts for Earth Day, or game nights, or give kids room to hold bake sales out front, or give shelf space to local makers, or give a kid with a pocket full of quarters a chance to discover a pre-loved treasure,” Galloway explains. “Angel has made the store such an active member of the community. We will miss it, and her, enormously.”
Growing Up on Main Street
Over 13 years, Rafter has seen couples become parents, parents become grandparents and countless firsts for the community’s children. As for her own kids, well, “they grew up on Main Street.”
The boys napped and later did their homework in a back room, and when they reached Washington Irving School, they walked to the store with their friends after school.
“There’d be like eight backpacks laying behind the counter, and they would all go and get their slushie, right? Gotta get the (slurpee) from 7-Eleven. They’d go get pizza from Main Street (Pizza), and then they’d all come back, and they’d play or hang out or whatever. And then someone would (say) they want ice cream, so they’d go get ice cream,” she says.
She knew her kids would never get into trouble because all of the merchants on Main Street knew them. “Main Street is truly its own community, its own family, and all the owners, we love each other. We wanna take care of each other and help each other in any way we can. That’s one of the many things I’ll miss.”
Serving the Community
Rafter says the “biggest, biggest heartbreak” of closing is Light One Candle, the program run by Tarrytown’s Temple Beth Abraham that raises funds to provide $25 A NU Toy Store gift certificates for the price of $5 to local families via La Asociación de Familias Hispanas de los Tarrytowns. It gives parents more spending power to buy the “perfect” holiday gift for their children. The group comes to the store on a designated evening for special shopping hours and leaves with wrapped gifts. Angel explains how the program design was inspired by Toxic Charity, a book Reverend Susan Copley of Christ Episcopal Church read and shared. She is honored to be a part of the program and calls it “the most important thing (she) does all year.” She estimates it benefits 50 families and about 100 children.
Her fear is that if there are no local stores dedicated to toys, parents will feel compelled to spend money on other things their families need with the certificates. She recalls the joy of the shopping night and how over the years, it became a true family event — more and more fathers joined mothers to select gifts for the children.
The rivertowns will be without a toy store south of Briarcliff after A NU Toy Store shuts down. Other recently closed children’s stores include consignment boutique Baby Chic, formerly on North Broadway in Tarrytown, and Tra La La, a store that carried nursery furniture and assorted toys and clothing, formerly on Main Street in Irvington. Notably, consignment shop Affordables on Main Street in Dobbs Ferry is open and carries some used toys amid its clothes and baby gear.
In addition to participating in Light One Candle, A NU Toy Store ran an annual toy drive with the PTA for the Open Door Foundation and also supported the police department toy drives.
At one point, the store operated a “birthday box” program that donated a toy to children of immigrant families on their birthdays. The goal was to share the tradition of gifting children toys on their birthdays, which isn’t a part of many cultures. Rafter’s son conceived of the program after his own experience with classmates who didn’t have context for birthday celebrations at school.
Rafter is relocating to Florida after the school year ends to be closer to her oldest son Logan, a 2020 Sleepy Hollow High School graduate who now attends Auburn University. Rafter grew up in Florida, and after more than 20 years in the rivertowns, she says she still cannot stand the cold. And her husband is retiring.
“It’s all good. I was just really, really sad that that dream (to sell) didn’t happen. Because I really think someone else could have had the same experience and the same excitement and love for the town,” she says.
She is planning a “good-bye week” at the store in May when families can stop by for one final visit to their favorite toy store on Main Street. Weekly closing sales start April 7.
“I couldn’t have done it without the community. The fact is that even during Covid, my October was the third best October I’ve ever had. Like, it really showed that people said you know what, I’m really sick of this, I’m going to shop local. And I can’t — words can’t even express how much that means,” she says.
“It was perfect. There’s no other way to describe the life (my family) had.”