Toy Maniacs makes fun a family affair
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Classic Star Wars action figures brandish blasters and lightsabers, a contingent of remote control aircraft hang frozen in a mock divebomb run overhead and a remarkably lifelike stuffed basset hound fixes visitors with a droll gaze.
These are just a few of the denizens of South Lake Tahoe’s Toy Maniacs, where co-owner Dennis Michal is committed to providing a wide variety of games, playthings and hobbies.
“I try to bring in stuff that, if you went over to (K-Mart), you wouldn’t find 90 percent of what we have here,” Michal said.
While NERF, Lego, and Hot Wheels are all in stock, Toy Maniacs also offers brands like Melissa & Doug, an American manufacturer of children’s toys with an emphasis on wood-crafted and hand-painted products.
“Melissa & Doug, mothers come in a lot looking for this stuff,” said Michal. “They know that they’re getting that level of quality.”
For Michal, the toy business is a family affair. He learned the ropes in Southern California, working in a line of family-owned toy stores, Michal’s Toys & Hobbies. After the death of his father and the family’s decision to sell off the shops, Michal transplanted much of their Simi Valley branch to South Lake Tahoe, founding Toy Maniacs in January 2000. His son Shaun and wife Penelope are also co-owners and work in the store.
“We’d had a vacation home up here since the early 80s, and we loved Tahoe so much,” Michal said. “It was our dream to live here.”
After 12 years at the South Shore, the Michals have experienced firsthand the fluctuations of the local economy.
“Eight or ten years ago, you’d get people from three or four different countries in here every day,” said Shaun Michal. “Now, we’re lucky to see one a week.”
But Toy Maniacs has its own formula for success, relying in part on their wide selection to bring in specialty shoppers.
“We carry one of the biggest game lines around,” the elder Michal said. “People come in here for games they can’t find anywhere else.”
Another key to the Michal’s business is the ability to attract local clientele.
“We get a lot of locals as well as tourists,” Dennis Michal said. “The store depends on both.”
Remote control vehicles are one hobby that keeps Tahoe residents returning. Retailing cars, boats and helicopters, as well as handling tune-ups and repairs, Toy Maniacs is the go-to shop for South Shore RC enthusiasts.
“They do really good work here,” South Lake Tahoe resident Randy Lautrup said. “What they can do on a car here in an hour is amazing.”
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