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Blast to the Past!

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, not really. It was actually a pretty sunny day in kindergarten, but for dramatic effect it was dark and stormy. A friend of mine had smuggled in a pack of Magic cards, and a group of kids had gathered 'round to see them. We took turns thumbing through each one, inspecting the art, and reading the flavor text. I didn't know how to play the game, but I was captivated by the artistry on each card. An entire universe overflowing with characters, monsters, spells, and lore was contained inside a box that was only half the size of each card!  My mind raced with possibilities over all the adventures I could have in that world. But suddenly the teacher intervened, and the fun screeched to a halt. The whole classroom fell flat with silence, and the thick presence of gloom was in the air – the exact kind that constricts in your throat. I'll never forget the look on my friend's face as his cards were confiscated; the life draining from his cheeks and tears pooling in his eyes. It was painful to watch, and it was also scary to think that it could happen to you if you brought something from home that wasn't approved by the school. Essentially, the cards were banned because they were considered “part of the occult”. I had no idea what that meant at the time.

The Velcro weather board was one of the few things I liked about kindergarten.  I've got stormy in my hand, and I'm not afraid to use it!

Wooden blocks and Lincoln Logs were the only toys the school provided, and they were just so rigid and hollow – in sound and substance. The tok-tok-tok every time you stacked them together was as monotonous and dull as watching the clock hands move. There are only so many houses and castles you can build. And even if you built the best castle you could, it would just be destroyed when you had to put the blocks away. It was an exercise in futility that even a kindergartner could recognize.

Spelling with blocks is L-A-M-E.

So, what was the big deal with those cards? Magic: The Gathering had just been released, and the cards and decks were sold out everywhere. Just because school didn't allow them, that didn't mean I couldn't own some myself. It was the lack of availability that meant I couldn't own them. There was only one comic store, two hobby shops, and five bookstores in town... and all of them were picked clean by vultures, no doubt. Unlike the saturation of cards and collectibles today, stores like Walmart or Kmart only sold movie trading cards and baseball cards. My parents “didn't want to go on a quest” to find Happy Meal toys or cards, so I was bummed out. That was the first time feeling disappointment over something being sold out – a feeling that would re-occur with Beanie Babies, Pokemon Cards, and Amiibo to name a few more instances. Then something happened that parted the metaphorical clouds!  I'm not sure why, but my older brother's friend invited my brother and I to go to a store that had just moved out of the mall and into a building downtown. It was a blue building with Batman and Superman freshly-painted on the window, the door was propped wide open, and a neon “Open” sign prominently hung to the left of the doorway. I looked up and squinted as the sun shone onto the name, “Blast to the Past”.

These were the occult?

The moment I crossed the threshold, the motion-sensors in the doorway booped and chimed as a sudden gush of air-conditioning greeted me. I imagined it was like setting foot in a decontamination chamber for the time machine. My eyes probably got pretty wide, as I began soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the strange new world I had just set foot in. Blast to the Past was a mix of comic store, hobby shop, and thrift store. People could buy and sell toys, collectibles, and other awesome things. To me, that was way cooler than Walmart, and way less expensive than Toys 'R' Us. At the time, Big Lots! would get the old clearance toys from the two Kay Bee Toys in the mall, but where did the old toys from Big Lots! go? They went here!

Directly to the right of the entrance were shelves crowded with action figures and dolls from the 70s and 80s, some boxed and others loose. Barbie, Original GI Joe, Masters of the Universe, Mego, My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats, and Transformer toys were among the ones I can recall. There was an abundance of characters that I yearned to know/own, but I couldn't afford all of them on kindergarten wages. Additionally, there was a notice written on the shelves that if you touched four or more of those toys, you had to buy all the ones your grubby little hands marked. I was a curious kid, so it was particularly hard to keep my hands off the coolest toys. I, accidentally, did end up with Hordak, Leech, Mumm-Ra, and Duchess Ravenwaves, but it never happened again after my mom got mad. My dad was more mad that Hordak, Leech, and Ravenwaves were from “girl cartoons”.

She was a legit villain!

Across from those shelves was a deep, wooden bin overflowing with a mountain of old Happy Meal toys. It was a veritable jackpot for collectors who just needed one or more toys to complete a set, and there was no limit on how many you could touch. The Super Mario Bros. 3 and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 McDonald's toys were ones that I didn't mind getting duplicates. Later, when the Teenie Beanie Babies were released at McDonald's, I frantically checked the bin every week for Patti the Platypus to turn up, but to no avail. She had been one of the first to sell out, and after so many years of disappointment, I reluctantly gave up my search. It wasn't until 2013 that I went back to the bin, and there, waiting at the very bottom, was a Patti!  I finally got the Beanie I wanted.

This was the Beanie that my 4th grade teacher had in his classroom.  I was class president that year, and got to play with it and read Calvin & Hobbes books while eating cake and watching movies with the kindergartners on Fridays.  That was the best school year ever.

Moving along the right wall was where the glass cases began. There were watches, rings, medals, and other jewelry much like you might find at an antique store today. I wasn't much of a fan of jewelry, so I don't have that many stories to tell about this section, but they did have some of those animal figurines made of cut crystal. I will say that the lighting was excellent and really showcased the beauty in the jewels; it gleamed and twinkled alluringly. This whole area was replaced with a wall in 2014 when another thrift store took the right half of the building to sell their stuff, and those lights were snuffed out.

You can use the paint bucket tool and fill a layer of brown over this image to simulate the particle board wall.

Further along the right wall and wrapping the corner around the back was an entire case full of original Star Wars toys, memorabilia, and cardboard cutouts of each character. It was a huge display with a big screen TV and sleek stereo equipment that had the 80s metal/chrome design on everything. Too bad I wasn't a fan of Star Wars. Eventually, the entire collection was sold off and the case was barren and lonely. Sometimes I would find various bric-a-brac in the vacant space like a Murder, She Wrote board game or a crate of battle-damaged Teddy Ruxpins with missing eyes, but it was clear that the back corner had lost its luster. The wall they built ate up half the store, and made it feel foreign and claustrophobic.

Why does this exist?  Because I can't live without it.

The left side of the store had shelves packed with action figures and dolls from earlier in the 90s, as well as the current fads. Again, some toys were brand new, while others were loose and used. The touching rule applied to these shelves, and I cautiously approached each toy to sum up their potential worth. I managed to find some awesome Transformers and GI Joe figures in this area later when I was older and had more money. Recently, these once lively shelves were killed and replaced with old electronic cables when the store mutated into an “everything is a dollar” business model.

Occupying the space parallel from those shelves were two tables with cardboard boxes stacked above and below. Each box was so full of magazines and comics, you would have to wedge them in carefully to avoid from crinkling or tearing the pages or covers. The comics had protective sleeves, but the magazines were not treated so delicately. Various dates ranging from the 1960s to the 1990s showed glimpses into the past, but probably none more so than the Archie comics gang as they evolved in style and design by decade. It was easy to lose track of time wading through these pages, and I would occasionally find myself elbow deep in comics looking for an issue of Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog by the time my mom wanted to leave. Collectors would come in and sweep the comics section regularly. Nothing ever stayed there for long, so I reasonably had to make the most of that time. Eventually, a second Blast to the Past location opened that only sold comics and was run by the owner's son. I went to that location a handful of times, but the comics there weren't going anywhere fast. I think that one closed a few years ago.

I managed to snag this puppy from the comic box during a fishing expedition.

The left wall was adorned with pegs that seemingly poured cascades of discontinued toys, some fresh from clearance at Kmart and Walmart. I remember seeing the Dino plush from the Flintstones live-action movie perched on the highest shelf just below the windows for years. Then one year, Dragon Ball Z toys filled those pegs. I would look at figures for Fat Majin Buu and the Great Saiyaman wondering who they were. Dragon Ball Z hadn't quite hit popularity yet, and these toys were from near the end of the series. I guess the owner could also see into the future because Dragon Ball Z took off afterward. It wasn't long before the steady stream of toys became a trickle, and then a drought. Kay Bee Toys went out of business, and Big Lots! no longer got name brand toys for cheap. Rumors of a website called eBay spread like fire around school -- it was a website where people could buy and sell their collectibles online!  Blast to the Past was no longer getting new toys in to replace the old collections they were selling. The owner had to adapt and start selling stuff on eBay as well. He even said that he would buy something for you on eBay if you would pay for it, but where is the fun in that? The future seemed bleak and sterile, while dark clouds were coalescing ahead.

This was the Buu toy, but it had different packaging.  I didn't know who this was.  The Saiyan Saga had not even concluded yet!

The checkout counter and register were located in the middle of the store, above a rich glass display that housed the rarest and most valuable of treasures. The merchandise that caught my eye were some original Mario Bros. toys, a vintage Pillsbury Doughboy plush, and the same type of E.T. plush that was used as a hiding place in the department store from Gremlins. I would eventually see some Close Encounters of the Third Kind trading cards, an original Game Boy, and an antique samurai sword set in the case. It was pretty awesome. Slowly, each prize in this case would end up disappearing – purchased by some unknown individual(s).

The E.T. doll looked like faux leather, and I'm sure the heart did not glow.

Behind the counter was where the booster packs were hidden away – a secret cache that apparently no one else knew about! Not only did they have Magic cards in booster packs, but they also had a library card catalog with drawers full of loose cards! The cards had just come out, and this store was selling individual cards. I happily sunk hours into just going through and looking at the cards, sifting for gold as it were. Spending ten cents per common card was just in my price range. Back then, having a cool one dollar bill was rich for a kindergartner, and having five dollars was living the dream.

My money is just as good, right...?

I just loved the colors of the cards. There was something about the shade of green they used for Forest cards with a marbled textured look that was too cool. The backs of the cards had a really nice brown and leathery contrast with the archaic, relic-type font. Artifacts would become my favorite type due the usually bronzed color, or otherwise steampunk aesthetic. My favorite card at the time was “The Rack”. Not necessarily because I like torture devices, but because the doll on the card was cute and had a nice golden glow that complimented the color of the Artifact type. Also, Aladdin came out on VHS around that time and we watched it in class; the golden sand, the yellows, oranges, and reds were visual treats. Not to mention the tape started with a teaser for The Lion King, with that golden hour sunrise over the horizon.  It always gives me the warm and fuzzies.

Something about artifacts and antiques just draw me in.  The doll featured in the art would eventually get its own card in the 2000s!

I finally had some cards of my own, but the joy was short-lived.  Weeks after finding this safe haven, some jerk bought the entire card catalog for one thousand, six hundred dollars.  My brother and I were walking in to pick out some cards just as the guy was leaving with the entire stock!  They never replaced it, and no single cards were ever sold there again.  I was crushed by the reality of the situation, but I couldn't just not go into the store after asking my parents to take me there.  I desperately fumbled around the store and tried to find something to take my mind off the cards. To my surprise, I would discover there were more rooms in the back with clothes, video games, and vinyl records, VHS, & Betamax tapes!  I had wanted to buy everything there at the time, but I couldn't.  In hindsight, it was a sign of things to come.  Just like using a time machine... I could look, but I couldn't take everything with me.

Wave goodbye as you scroll past the card catalog.  I know I will.

Blast to the Past was an awesome store, but as they sold off their collection, they lost a bit of the magic with each sale. With eBay, they sold off a lot of their classic toys. And without the toys, it just wasn't the same. I keep thinking back to the look on my friend's face as his cards were taken, and how the life seemed to fade from him. The life from the store itself seemed to fade away. Nowadays, it is a generic thrift store where everything is one dollar. Very few, if any, collectibles and figures can be found. The remaining Happy Meal toys are now bagged randomly together in a bunch to get rid of them. Batman and Superman were removed from the front window within the last year, and the “Open” sign that was so warm and welcoming was replaced with a flat, beige rectangle of plastic with a picture of a clock on it. The owner doesn't even remember the kids who used to come in every week over the years, but I don't blame him for it. Life happens.

You say you're open, but I don't think you mean it.

Every so often, I like to browse antique, thrift, and second hand stores. And on occasion, my eyes get wide and the clouds part in such a way that I find some hidden treasure in the dusty corner of a forgotten world. I prefer to spend all the time I need walking through every aisle of the store, inspecting each item, and not overlooking even the smallest one. Sooner or later, the things you passed by a million times might just end up gone. And if you don't notice them while they are there, you might never realize the significance they actually had on your life.

Pro tip: Avoid the shadowy place, you must never go there.

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Looking for more from Radical?

retroboy Posted on Oct 08, 2018 at 06:42 PM

I wanna go to Blast From the past store

mickyarber Posted on Mar 05, 2016 at 12:02 AM

Welcome! Good effort on your first article.

I too once had a place like that I could visit. It was called Buck Fever for some d*mn reason. It was in the early 90's, and that store was capitalizing on the hot markets for sports cards and comic books. I remember my older brother and his best friend taking me there the day Superman #75 came out and I was instantly hooked.

We would go every other week when they got paid and drop some cash. At the time, we lived about a half hour away from that store. Now, I live just 5 minutes from there and pass it on the way to the kids school and back...and a lot of times driving by, I shudder when I look over and see an insurance office where the great Buck Fever used to be.

Radical Posted on Feb 29, 2016 at 05:37 PM

Oh wow, it got published. Thank you for the positive feedback! I kinda wrote it the morning of the article deadline, so I wasn't able to proofread it. It was hard coming up with a story to tell that I hadn't already told!

Blast to the Past was really that amazing; so much so that I had to invite you all along! I should have touched everything when I had the chance!

massreality Posted on Feb 28, 2016 at 01:42 PM

Wow. Great first article. Welcome to Retro Daze!

I'm totally jealous. That store sounds like it was amazing! I spent alot of time in sports card stores and comic shops as a kid, so I know the thrill of finding a magical place that just gets you. Sadly, nowadays there arent many places that you can goto in person and feel that way. Luckily places like Retro Daze exist for the social aspect and eBay for the material part.

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 28, 2016 at 09:49 AM

Welcome to RD! This was an excellent read. It's always surprising when a great article comes out of nowhere from a new member. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Blast to the Past sounds like an amazing store. I found myself wishing that such a place had been around in my youth. I would occasionally visit places in my youth that were somewhat similar, but none had a selection like that you've mentioned here. It just sounds like an amazing place.

It's always hard to see those places we grew up loving change or shut down. Like a piece of our childhood just disappeared. But at least when you share those memories, the place lives on in a way.

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