WALLINGFORD — Robert Torres still has the first G.I. Joe action figure he owned as a child, a neon green laser trooper named Sci-Fi that he stored with its weapons in a sandwich bag.
“As a kid, I knew that if I lost a figure, I wasn’t going to get another one,” he said. “If you looked in my backpack, it was loaded with figures in bags.”
His lifelong passion for toys led to a career in the industry and the recent opening — by appointment and curbside pickup only — of This Toy Life, 169 Center St., a store dedicated to vintage and new collectible toys.
Due to the pandemic, he doesn’t have a definite date for opening to the public. He takes appointments via Instagram and Facebook.
Torres, a 39-year-old Hamden resident, had been searching for a combined storage and studio space.
He works with his best friend, Jesse DeStasio, on a toy line of DeStasio’s called Knights of the Slice. The figures have interchangeable body parts for customization.
Torres found the corner storefront on Center and South Orchard streets by happenstance.
He noticed a “for rent” sign in the window of 169 Center St. while dropping off a package for his wife, who’s a lawyer, at the office of attorney Lars Edeen Jr. next door.
Torres said he began his property lease in January and has been working to get the store space ready since, fixing the lighting and installing a slat display wall.
His merchandise includes major collector franchises like Star Wars — to which there’s an entire room dedicated — and modern collectibles like the Funko Pop! vinyl figurines. The toys range widely in price, from $1.99 to hundreds of dollars.
“I’ve been a toy collector for 35 years now,” Torres said. “This is kind of the overrun of my main collection.”
Torres studied industrual design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida from 2002 to 2004. He lived in Brooklyn, New York, and worked for Art Asylum as a toy designer, officially a research and development coordinator.
He moved back to Connecticut in 2007 and began freelancing, which is when he really learned how to mold and paint, he said.
After commuting to Hoboken, New Jersey, while living in Milford for a job at Toy Island, a licensing company, he started working at American Sign Inc. in New Haven in 2011. He was laid off in August.
Torres has other creative outlets, including comic books and a podcast, also called This Toy Life, which he said grew out of years of being a collector.
He said he eventually wants to hold classes on how to assemble action figure kits.
It’s unclear when Mia Bridal Boutique, the business that had occupied the storefront for about 20 years, closed. Owner Mia Cascini declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday. A tweet from the business’ account on May 13 indicated she is still operating via her website.
Tim Ryan, the town’s economic development specialist, said Tuesday that it’s “soothing” to see a new business opening during the pandemic.
The town economic development office has been swamped for weeks with helping existing businesses navigate the state restrictions and stay afloat, he said.
“The fact that someone is going to open up, to stay with their plan to open up, is comforting,” Ryan said. “Under these circumstances, it’s especially comforting.”
And what else is more comforting than a toy?