ACURVED BANNER on a big, brightly colored display case in the window of a Main Street store in East Aurora proclaims the village as Toy Town U.S.A.
It's a preview of what is to come, according to Vivian Coletti, vice president of East Aurora's Toy Town U.S.A. Foundation, a not-for-profit group formed to oversee an annual toy festival, promote the village as a national toy center and launch plans for a toy museum and exhibit center.
Two of those goals already are a reality. This summer's Toyfest was the fourth such event; it featured a parade, antique toy and model railroad exhibits, musical revues, a polo tournament and car, horse and baseball card shows.
And, until this year when Fisher-Price closed its factories in the village and in nearby Holland, few would have disputed native pride in equating "toy town" with East Aurora, birthplace 60 years ago of the world's largest manufacturer of infant and preschool playthings.
The foundation's third objective has a modest start with the opening of a Christmas Toy Town store at 650 Main St.
"We felt it was time to make a visible statement to the community of our commitment to eventually attain a permanent museum," Mrs. Coletti explained. They plan to use the rented store as a temporary exhibit center for two years.
Highlighting interior renovations is a temporary facade that depicts a fairyland castle and separates the front of the store from the as yet unused rear quarters.
Encased in castle windows are antique toys, including such famous Fisher-Price creations as "Buzzy Bee," reproduced by the toy manufacturer in 1987 as the official toy for the first Toy Fest. Other limited-edition Fisher-Price reproductions for succeeding Toy Fests were "Snoopy Sniffer," the "Choo-Choo" train engine and this year's "Prancing Horse" pull toy.
A few critics fear that a village toy museum may place too much emphasis be a museum
on the company that recently eliminated some 1,100 area jobs.
"The museum will not be Fisher-Price entirely," emphasized Robert K. Ostrander, Toy Foundation president. "Rather, it will serve as a tribute to generations of skilled workers who dedicated their talents to making quality toys here. Toy Town U.S.A. is in existence because of those toy makers, many of whom are still here and some of whom are continuing to produce toys on a free-lance basis." Ostrander, a former Fisher-Price toy designer, is now an independent consultant.
The company still employs many area residents (about 900, said a company official) in its village headquarters, he said, and has supported community efforts to establish a toy museum, which also will focus on traveling exhibits of toys manufactured in other countries.
That spirit of cooperation is evident
in the Toy Town store. The castle wall was developed by several Fisher-Price designers and plans are under way for the company to produce next year's Toy Fest toy, a platform variety with a musical teddy bear theme.
The store's toy showcase was built by a former Fisher-Price employee, also an independent toy designer now. Guarded on both sides by built-in nutcracker-style soldiers, its shelves hold an array of wood toys that date back to the 1930s.
"Collectors are lending their toys on a rotating basis," noted Mrs. Coletti, a toy enthusiast and owner of the Toy Loft in the Aurora Village Shopping Center.
Eventually, the store on Main Street will feature storytelling, painting and other "hands on" projects to encourage young designers to do their own experimenting as toy makers.
"This spring we'll have an exhibit of Japanese robot toys and show educational movies that explain why robots exist and how they function," Ostrander noted. Also on the spring agenda is a day on which the public can bring in antique and collectible toys for appraisals by an authority.
To raise additional funds for a permanent museum, store volunteers coordinated by Toyfest Chairwoman Deanna Korth are selling official Toyfest items, including teddy bears, paddle balls, T-shirts, neon caps, Christmas ornaments, mugs, glass tankards, scarves, yo-yos and playing cards. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
All articles sold feature a logo created by Ostrander for the first Toy Fest -- a wood toy depicting a horse-drawn sulky and driver that has become the permanent symbol for Toy Town U.S.A. He chose the design to combine toy making with another village heritage. East Aurora, well-known as the birthplace of President Millard Fillmore and for Elbert Hubbard's Roycroft Institutions which drew the likes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford to visit the village, also is remembered for its famous race horses and trotters, he explained.