The life-size friendly neighborhood Spider-Man statue standing on West Main Street side outside of collectible toy store Toying Around has come to be one of the symbols of the city of Johnstown’s downtown small business hub, but on Saturday the statue was only one of at least five different costumed Marvel wall-crawlers patrolling that area for the third edition of the Toying Around Block Party.
Amsterdam native and Fulton-Montgomery Community College student Andrew Reichel was one of the people dressed as Spider-Man, his version being the costume worn by Andrew Garfield in the 2012 movie “The Amazing Spider-Man.” He said he’s worn the suit at indoor air-conditioned comic book conventions, but never outside in 80 degree July heat.
“I’ve dressed as Spider-Man many times, but not in public,” he said between posing for photos with block party attendees. “It’s just fun. The suit is pretty hot, but I don’t really care. I’m just glad to be here.”
Vincent McCallum, owner of Toying Around, first organized the Toying Around Block Party in 2018 as a means of celebrating his store having stayed open, operating in the very niche collectible toy, game, comic book and pop culture merchandise space. He said his event grew to taking up two blocks of the city in 2019, but was then shut down for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, McCallum had more than 90 vendors packed into Johnstown’s downtown, including non-pop-culture-related local businesses in Fulton County like Johnstown’s Vintage Cafe, Wemple & Edick’s ice cream, Studio Herbage and Broadalbin-based Great Sacandaga Brewing Co.
McCallum said his niche business has continued to thrive thanks in part to long-lease agreements and his dedication to appearing at convention and pop-culture fan events. He said his ability to bring those events to Johnstown is his way of giving back.
“I would say we’ve probably tripled our attendance from last time,” McCallum said Saturday. “We also have a good, eclectic variety of vendors compared to last time, because we wanted to make sure there was something for everyone.”
The Toying Around Block Party included a cosplay costume contest, a giant Star Wars-themed bounce house from Amsterdam-based Kyle’s Bounce Rentals, photo opportunities for people who wanted to take pictures with screen-accurate — or at least screen similar — iconic vehicles from movies and TV shows like K.I.T.T. from “Knight Rider,” a “Jurassic Park” Jeep and a DeLorean sports car like the one Marty McFly drove in “Back to the Future.”
Ivy Gotobed, a Greater Johnstown School District fourth-grader, was the winner of the under-18 portion of the costume contest, wearing a homemade “Masters of the Universe” Orko costume created by her father.
She said her father got her into watching all of the different versions of the He-Man cartoons, which have had iterations in the 1980s, 2000s and two recent animated Netflix shows. She said the animated shows introduced her to Orko, the often comically inept wizard.
“He’s my favorite character,” Ivy said. “If he was a real person, he’d be more than my best friend — he’d be like a brother to me. I love Orko, because he’s so goofy.”
She said her father’s ability to create costumes came from his love of themed paintball tournaments where he often wears a Captain America costume he created.
“This was my first time every actually going to one of these, and my first time ever winning anything,” she said, holding up her trophy.
One of the vendors at the block party was “Retrogamecon” a company that hosts similar pop-culture style events, with a particular focus on vintage video game and tabletop roleplaying games. Nathan Grant, who manned the Retrogamecon table, said the Toying Around Block Party has established the city of Johnstown as being a hub for pop culture enthusiasts located between Syracuse and Albany. He explained the appeal of the events.
“It’s important for us do events like this where we can kind of run into similar crowds who like the same type of things, because there’s so much crossover between people who like comic books, old Star Trek stuff, who like Star Wars, who like Marvel, and who like old video games,” Grant said.