Jessica Snyder, of Trumbull, smiled while watching her 20-month-old daughter, Peyton, hold a bouquet of colorful balloons while riding a toy unicorn on the floor of Awesome Toys & Gifts, a new store at 464 Main St. in Monroe, Saturday afternoon.
Among the aisles, Riley Rotherham, 4, of Monroe, took a stuffed dog off a display, examined it, held it close to her, looked up at her mother, Kristen, and said, “she’s pretty.”
Nick Tarzia, the owner of Awesome Toys, said his store provides memories families can’t experience online.
“You go on the computer and you spend time scrolling with your kid. You pick something out and wait for it to come in the mail,” Tarzia said. “You come here and you spend time with your kid, your grandchild or your niece and they remember walking around the store with their parents and grandparents, and they get to play with toys and try things out. You’re connecting with your child.”
Awesome Toys was teeming with families during its grand opening celebration Saturday. Gift bags were handed out and children received two raffle tickets for prizes. The grand prizes were a large toy car and a jeep, and bags of toys covering the front counter could also be won.
At one table, Kevin Carroll, who started the Westport company, Tenzi, showed children how to play the dice game.
Nick Tarzia, a former town resident, also owns toy stores in Stamford and Westport. Frederick L. Welk Jr., Tarzia’s business advisor of many years, worked with him for each opening.
“Nick’s an exceptional retailer,” Welk said. “He really connects with his community. That’s why he’s thriving in an era where specialty retailing is fading, because of competition with the internet and other factors. Nick is nationally known among his peers of independent toy store operators.”
“He’s a hometown original and people drive for miles to get the real thing,” Welk added. “It’s the assortment. It’s the customer service. It’s listening to what his customers are asking for and providing it.”
“Awesome Toys is like a Toys ‘R’ Us,” Tarzia said. “It’s a hybrid of an independent speciality store and a mass market store in our product selection. The difference is we help every customer who comes into our store. We are happy to help everyone find that special gift they need. We have a toy for every budget and every taste.”
Awesome Toys is involved in the communities it serves, making donations to local events, according to Tarzia, who said he has a close partnership with Toys for Tots in Stamford and Norwalk.
When the Stamford police and fire unions have their annual Christmas parties, Tarzia’s store provides toys for the children.
Tarzia said he looks forward to forging connections in the Monroe community.
A ribbon is cut
An inflatable tube man air dancer waved in the wind on the roof above Awesome Toys and on the sidewalk down below Thiago Oliver, of Meet Me Premium Steaks next door, cooked chicken and tri-tip steaks on a grill for the toy store’s grand opening.
“We’re very excited,” David Ferreira, co-owner of Meet Me Premium Steaks, said of Awesome Toys moving in next door. I think new businesses are coming to this area. After all the news of Toys ‘R’ Us stores closing down, this is a great business for kids. We’re excited to have them.”
A ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the new store was led by First Selectman Ken Kellogg, First Selectman-Elect Terry Rooney, Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Ray Giovanni, Town Councilman Jason Maur and several chamber members.
“On behalf of the town of Monroe, we are all overjoyed to have you here. Welcome,” Kellogg said to Tarzia and his staff. “We wish you years and years of success. We couldn’t be happier to have you. We are here to support you. We are here to help you in anyway we can. It’s a wonderful addition to our community.”
“Thank you. As a past resident, it’s good to be back,” Tarzia said.
Giovanni said it is an honor to have Awesome Toys move to Monroe, aligning the town with its other stores in Stamford and Westport. “I’m glad you put Monroe on the map,” he said.
“Another amazing business to come into town,” Rooney said. “I just want to urge our residents to support these businesses. They need the community’s support to thrive.”
Rooney recalled a time when Crossroads Center only had the Verizon store and four empty storefronts. Since then, Mariola’s Cafe Bakery & Deli, Meet Me Premium Steaks and a T-Mobile store moved in. Now, Awesome Toys completely fills the center with commercial tenants.
“I commend our Economic Development Department and First Selectman Ken Kellogg for creating an environment where business owners know they are welcome,” he said. “I’m happy that so many business owners are willing to do something in Monroe.”
A new gift destination
Parents shopping at Awesome Toys Saturday enjoyed having a new destination for gifts.
“We were sad when the book store went out of business,” Kristen Rotherham said of Turning the Page, which was housed in Clock Tower Square. “We were happy to have a local place that’s got stuff for the kids.”
This was the second time Rotherham brought her daughter, Riley, to Awesome Toys. The first time was to buy birthday gifts for a friend.
Rotherham held Riley in her arms. Looking at her, she said, “we found everything we needed, didn’t we?”
Jessica Snyder and her husband Eric also enjoy shopping at Awesome Toys — and found it’s not only for kids.
“We love it,” Jessica said. “This is our second time here already. It’s so nice to see the toys and all they have, especially with young kids. My husband loves sports cards and they have that here.”
Laura Arena, of Trumbull, brought her two children, Connor, 3, and Evelyn, 5. Both wore face paint and ate slices of cheese pizza together at a table.
“They love it,” Arena said of the new store. “It’s really nice to see the toys and test them out in person.”
Arena expects to be back for her Christmas shopping,
“Yeah definitely,” she said. “We love it and we love supporting small businesses, so it’s a win, win.”
Awesome Toys is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, visit its website or follow the store on Facebook.
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