Toy Show Promises Family Fun

By Catherine Kavanaugh
Daily Tribune Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK — There won’t be any vegetables or fruits at the Farmers Market on Saturday, except perhaps rare Mr. Potato Heads and Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Toy vendors are taking over for the day. About 70 antique and collectible dealers will fill more than 400 tables with play items from the 1880s to 1970s, turning this five-year-old event into the largest toy show in southeastern Michigan for 2006.

Promoter Larry Barnett said the toy show is growing faster than a Chrissy doll’s hair, which visitors have a good chance of seeing with an emphasis this year on toys for girls.

“Toy shows are often seen as a guy thing so I told everyone we’ve got to expand some. We’ve got to appeal to women more,” Barnett said.

Eric Olbrich, one of the event organizers and vendors, will bring an array of Barbie dolls that should bring back memories for female visitors.

“It will be a fun time for families,” he said. “The parents love to show their kids all the toys they played with, and the kids get to see there are things to do besides video games, video games, video games.”

Olbrich, 39, of Birmingham said he deals mostly with vintage toys made of tin, cast iron and pressed steel from Marx, Tonka, Smith-Miller, Buddy-L, Dinkey and Wyandott.

“I’ll bring Beanie babies, too, even though the market has gone to crap,” he added. “Back in its heyday the limited-edition blue elephant went for $4,000 but now you’re lucky to get $400 for it.”

Visitors don’t have to shell out big bucks for all items, however. They will see toys priced from $1 to $6,000.

“The age and rarity of a toy determines the price, said Olbrich, who is eager to see if anyone will snatch up his Jawa action figure from the Star Wars line for $1,000.

“I’ve got one in a plastic cape that was issued only in England,” the toy collector of 25 years said of the small humanoids that salvaged robots and sold C-3PO and R2-D2 to Luke Skywalker’s family.

The show will feature precious toys dealers aren’t willing to auction on eBay, where scammers buy mint-condition items, switch them with broken or less valuable toys they own, and return them for refunds.

“That happened to me with circus posters I sold on crisp, white paper,” Olbrich said. “They came back yellow and worn.”

Over the years, the reputation and size of the toy show at the Farmers Market has grown. Now only one other toy show held in Kalamazoo in May rivals its size, according to vendors.

“When we started, you could buy a $3,000 toy and a rhubarb pie,” Olbrich said. “Now we’ve taken over and the farmers will stay home.”

Market Master Gwen Ross said operators struggled with shutting out the farmers for a private rental. New guidelines and rental rates will have to be set with $1.3 million of renovations under way and a growing number of inquiries about using the space for weddings, trade shows and fund-raisers.

“The toy show organizers spent years building this event and we didn’t want to take that away,” Ross said. “It draws a tremendous crowd with 60-100 serious collectors waiting for it to open. But we have regular weekend renters, too, so there are issues to address as the market evolves.”

The toy show used to be separated from the farmers with tables and gates but it grew to the point where it was impossible to have a free section for market customers and a paid area for the toy browsers.

The market also will be the host site of a invitation-only fashion show benefit from 8-10 p.m. Friday. The event is being organized by SkyLofts MarketSquare, an upscale loft development under construction on 11 Mile Road that is named after the market.

The farmers will return Feb. 4 with Michigan root vegetables like potatoes, onions, cabbage, squash, carrots, parsnips and beets and other produce grown in the continental United States, including tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. Other vendors sell farm-related products, such as mushrooms, cheeses, salsa, eggs and chicken.

Click here to visit the SkyLofts MarketSquare website!

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