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Toy shopping in Amsterdam in the 20th century

Toy shopping in Amsterdam in the 20th century

Focus on History

Downtown Amsterdam was a good place to shop for children’s presents in the mid-20th century.

Hymen and Vera Gordon came to Amsterdam from Rochester in 1941. Hymen was a manager for Schine Theatres based in Gloversville. The couple started the Toy Tent on East Main Street in Amsterdam in 1946. The name apparently came from a tent made to go over a card table that children could use as a playhouse. A Gloversville company, Nelson and Taylor, made the tents.

The store was first located on the north side of East Main Street then moved to the south side of the street. There was a lollipop tree in the window of the new store and a whole room devoted to dolls. The store’s slogan was “Amsterdam’s Happy Birthday Store.”

The Toy Tent carried Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, action toys, mechanical toys, model airplanes and even tricycles.

Hy and Vera’s son David Gordon started working in the business at an early age.  The business closed in the 1960s. Later David Gordon headed Collette Manufacturing in Amsterdam.

Alphonso and Catherine D’Alessandro owned the Gift & Hobby Shop at Lark and East Main streets in the city’s East End. The building was destroyed by fire in the 1980s.

The hobby part of the business had a large supply of model plastic kits. The store held an annual contest for the best plastic car model.

John E. Larrabee’s hardware store on Market Street sold Lionel and American Flyer model trains at Christmas. Each brand installed a model train layout in the store. A 1958 ad offered an American Flyer guided missile train for $33.88 that could fire rockets from a railroad car. You could watch the missiles fly with a searchlight from another railroad car.

For several years in the 1980s Amsterdam was the shipping center for the tremendously popular Cabbage Patch Dolls made by Coleco Industries.

Coleco, which had started in Connecticut in 1932, came to Amsterdam in 1964 and moved into former carpet mill buildings to produce recreational products, including swimming pools and toys. The workforce totaled over 4,000 in the early 1980s with the popularity of the Cabbage Patch dolls. The firm made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the home computer market with its Adam computer and went into bankruptcy in 1988.

CLARK STREET TENANT

Reader Ray Knapik wrote that he and his mom rented the upstairs flat at Albert and Katie Sikoras’ home on Clark Avenue in Amsterdam from 1943 to 1950. The Sikoras were the subject of a recent column.

Knapik said, “I remember their son Harry had the best comic book collection of all the kids around there. Wish I knew where that stash was today.”

Harry’s older brother, Joe, was a semi-pro football player for the Amsterdam Zephyrs. Knapik and other neighborhood kids used to play touch football with Joe Sikora on the street.

Knapik said, “Heating oil tanks were kept in the cellar. In those days I had to go down there to fetch a pail. Very heavy for two flights of stairs. Also had an ice-box on the back porch. Carrying a block of ice from the ice-man’s truck was not easy either.

“The Sikoras were Polish, and I recall the wonderful fragrant food Mrs. Sikora cooked as I went up and down the stairs.

“In the back of the house was the community playground which was known as the Rockton Diamonds. Had a lot of good friends in Rockton (a section of Amsterdam) and that was our hang out place. Learned how to ice-skate on the sidewalk in front of the house.”

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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