The Amato toy store, a New Britain city center institution for more than 60 years, is closing and developer Avner Krohn plans to replace it with a high-end six-storey building.
Steve Amato, co-owner of one of Connecticut’s few independent toy retailers, announced Wednesday that he and his wife, Sheri, will close the business in late February and retire.
“My friends are my clients, and that’s going to be the hardest part — relationships. But I’ve been doing this full time since 1974,” Amato said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m 65 now. I’m tired.”
Generations of parents from Britain turned to Amato for birthday presents and Christmas gifts long before Toys R Us nearly took over the US toy market, and the store continued long after it closed. of the national channel.
The company dates back to 1940, when Vincent Amato founded Amato’s Toy and Hobby Center in Middletown. It added stores in New Haven, Waterbury and New Britain and built a reputation for a large stock, with particular emphasis on model kits for building plastic model airplanes, ships and cars. By the time he retired, the chain had only two stores: Vincent Amato’s daughter took over the Middletown location and his son, Steve, ran the New Britain one.
At that time, both stores were destinations for toy shoppers in central Connecticut and serious hobbyists in southern New England.
“Amato’s Toy and Hobby is a historic business in our city and has been a source of treasured memories for so many,” Mayor Erin Stewart said Wednesday afternoon. “Steve and Sheri Amato have been pillars of our community for decades.”
The Middletown store is owned separately and does not change anything.
“We at Middletown are very open, celebrating our 82nd year in business, the third generation of the Amato family has joined the business and we look forward to shopping with CT families for many, many years to come,” owner Diane Gervais said.
In New Britain, however, February 28 will be the last day.
The 22,000 square foot store was the centerpiece of the 2017 Lifetime movie “A Very Merry Toy Store,” and Steve Amato recalls how it made headlines even more 34 years prior.
Amid the 1983 Cabbage Patch Kids craze, the two Amato stores were each scheduled to receive 12 of the wildly popular dolls by the end of November. A flyer advertised that they would go on sale one morning at 9:30 a.m. He arranged for the dolls to arrive in an armored car.
“The night before when I went to close, there were two guys in the lobby. I said ‘They’re on sale at 9:30’ and they said ‘we know, we’ll wait'”, he recalled.
“The next morning they were still there on the sidewalk, there was a councilor and his wife and babysitters in deckchairs waiting. We gave numbers to the first 12 people and everything went well,” Amato said. “There were TV trucks everywhere, we were on the news in Texas.”
Amato plans to sell the Main Street building to Jasko Development, the company building a six-story apartment building next door. City leaders see the project, called The Brit, as a transformation of downtown, not least because it replaces a long-abandoned bank building that occupied a prominent street corner.
On Wednesday, Avner Krohn, the owner of Jasko, confirmed that he was planning a sister building to The Brit on the Amato site. City records show Amato’s two-story building dates to 1925, and Amato and Krohn said it had significant flaws and would be expensive to restore.
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Jasko plans to acquire two adjacent buildings and level them with the structure of the Amato.
“These buildings need millions of dollars to fix, and no retailer is coming to take 12,000 to 20,000 square feet. If we didn’t, they would sit there for the next two decades,” Krohn said.
Instead, Jasko is planning a six-story modern building along Main and back along Columbus Boulevard.
It would be a virtual twin of The Brit, but with some stylistic changes, Krohn said. It will have over 100 market-priced apartments, mostly a mix of one and two-bedroom units, and first-floor retail with a restaurant.
“We’re in the early design stages, but it’s going to be a big project – north of $20 million,” he said. “The units will have 10 foot ceilings. There will be rounded glass at the corner and an outdoor dining area set aside for a restaurant,” he said.
If all goes well, Krohn expects to complete The Brit by the first quarter of 2023, with the second building being completed approximately six months later. Krohn said the new one has yet to be named.
“It will probably have something to do with toys to pay homage to Amato,” Krohn said.