Donning a Spiderman mask, !Ka-Pow!! Collectibles owner Romeo Magdaluyo… (Shaymus McLaughlin, for…)
Debbie Van Ooteghem didn't plan to pop into a toy store. But on a Friday, the Chicago resident was on her way to get a pedicure when she noticed the Godzilla, Star Wars and super hero toys plastered on the walls of !Ka-Pow!! Collectibles like the world's coolest (and nerdiest) wallpaper.
So Van Ooteghem, being the vice president of an ad and marketing agency, did what anyone in her position would do: walked out of the store with a giant, neon orange, fully automatic NERF Gatling gun.
"At work, we collect all kinds of fun stuff," Van Ooteghem said. "We have NERF gun wars, and I don't have a gun, and now I'm going to have the biggest gun. And I run the place, so it's very apropos."
Who can her office thank for their new boss Rambo? That would be the owner of !Ka-Pow!! Collectibles, Romeo Magdaluyo.
Magdaluyo is in his early 40s, and like most people his age, has a full-time career. Unlike most 40-year-olds however, he has an astonishing number of toys, from any number of decades, stretching back to the early 1900s. Everything from Batman to Alf, Dick Tracy to Teddy Ruxpin animatronic teddy bears, GI Joe to Harry Potter. You get the sense that anybody between the ages of 11 and 75 could peek into the window and see a toy that they played with.
"A majority of my customers aren't actually collectors," he said. "They're actually just regular people that actually have regular jobs, all walks of life, and they want their old toys back."
"That's me," said a customer, jumping in with a laugh.
The ironic part? Magdaluyo himself had very few of these toys growing up. He was born in the Philippines, where American-style toys were scarce. So when he moved to the U.S. In 1982 at age nine, Magdaluyo "freaked out" when he first stepped inside a Toys R Us.
And here he is today with his own toy store, which began as an idea about 18 months ago in a different shop. Magdaluyo was chatting with his good friend David Gutterman, who owns Quake Collectibles in Lincoln Square.
Gutterman said he encouraged Magdaluyo to open a toy store, but did give him warning.
"I told him it's very difficult to open a small business anywhere, any time, good economy or bad economy," Gutterman said. "I think in order for someone to open it, you've got to go for it. I personally never took a business class in my life ... but it takes a real good understanding of people, and he has that."
And if you ask Gutterman, whose Quake Collectibles has been open for nearly 21 years, there isn't a better city you could choose. Chicago's size, the number of nearby cities and people, and its history within the collectibles market is top-notch, he said. Plus, there is the Kane County Toy Fair.
"One of the main reasons is [Kane County Toy Fair], one of the biggest toy shows," he explained. "It used to be, pre-Ebay, that people all over the world would gather in Chicago for this toy collectibles show. Dealers from most states and some countries would come to sell because it was the place to go."
While the online market has shifted some plane travel to mouse clicks, he still sees international interest--people from France, Germany, Japan and Australia that have recently come to Chicago with their eyes on toys.
Magdaluyo has another thing going for him: A cultural shift in recent years that has made being a self-proclaimed nerd, well, cool.
"It's getting a little more popular," he said. "You're seeing a lot more super hero movies, a lot more nerdy movies that are actually coming up, and they're doing really well at the box office."
Gutterman agreed, saying that over the last seven or eight years, perceptions have changed.
"That whole thing about jocks vs nerds back in the 70s and 80s has sort of gone down the toilet," Gutterman said. "I mean, nerd is not a nerd anymore. I don't think there are words to describe people anymore."
Nerdy or not, Magdaluyo's collection seems to be striking a chord. As Van Ooteghen paid for her new weapon ("I'm just going to set it up in the morning meeting like, pchew!" she said, mimicking shooting noises), another customer in the store chimed in.
"I feel like I see my whole childhood just, whoosh, in this store," said the agape youngster.
Magdaluyo replied simply, "It came here."
See photos of !Ka-Pow!! Collectibles.