Stepping into The Tatted Toy Guys Toy Emporium is a bit like stepping back in time to relive the childhood of ’80s and ’90s kids. The shop’s new and larger storefront, located at 4 South Market Street in Elizabethtown, is filled with collectibles that make great purchases but are plenty of fun just to come in to view, with original toys from franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, He-Man, Thundercats, Transformers, Hot Wheels, E.T., Ghostbusters, My Pet Monster, Pound Puppies, Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, the Smurfs, Barbie, G.I. Joe, WWE, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and of course the various superhero lines. Along with nostalgic, mint-condition items for the collector, the store offers modern toys and gently used items to be played with rather than kept on a shelf.
Originally, the store was meant to be just for collectibles. In 2018, co-owners Tony and Clint Gibble got into collecting toys from their youth, and they realized it would make a fun side business. Since they had plenty of time on their hands during the winter, when their photography business hit a natural lull each year, they started selling vintage toys online and at auctions. As a pair of fit, tattooed guys who bought and sold all sorts of toys, they quickly became recognizable in those circles — and as soon as the name “the tatted toy guys” was spoken, they knew they had a brand name on their hands. When their inventory of toys began to take over their living space, they realized that their sales would cover opening a small brick-and-mortar store that could serve as a storage space for them and a museum of sorts for the public, even if not a fully sustainable storefront.
A physical store would also make an excellent place for serious collectors to shop, Clint Gibble told The Lancaster Patriot, since collectors could view the items directly and be assured of their quality, something that is a gamble with online shopping.
The Gibbles signed the lease for their first store at 50 South Market Street in August 2019. The community was thrilled with the idea of a toy shop opening — but most families were anticipating a typical toy store, not a collectors’ shop. The Gibbles realized they needed to adapt their plans and create a hybrid store so they could better serve their community and not disappoint the many people showing interest in their business. The store was adjusted so the main part was dedicated to collectibles and the other part held new and gently used toys. “Kids don’t really care if it’s in the original packaging or not. That’s just an obstacle to get to play,” Tony Gibble explained. But since the Gibbles are toy enthusiasts, they are committed to making sure the pre-owned toys they sell are thoroughly inspected and cleaned so they are as close to retail condition as possible. That way, parents can save money by going with gently used toys without having to pick from secondhand toys dumped on a thrift store shelf.
People interested in clearing out their old toys can swing by the shop to see if there is anything the Tatted Toy Guys would want to purchase or might accept as a donation. “It never hurts to ask,” Tony Gibble said. A toy’s value, he explained, is dependent on whether someone wants to buy it. “Collectors usually start around 35, 40 years old. It’s when you get to that point where you just want to remember a more innocent time. Toys didn’t reflect anything bad. They were pure joy. And it brings you back a little bit of that.”
Donations can also serve another purpose. The Tatted Toy Guys collect donations for Toys for Tots all year long — including donations of used items, which Toys for Tots cannot accept. The Gibbles assign these donations a resale value, then set aside the money they expect to make from selling the used toys to purchase new items for Toys for Tots wholesale, which makes the money stretch even further than individual donations can. The first year they did this, they were able to purchase around $500 worth of toys, and the second year around $700.
That charity isn’t the only way the Gibbles care for those around them. They value engaging with their community and strengthening local businesses, so they have been working to bring people together. They had been rather shocked that as downtown business owners they had not been in the loop for certain events, like the local Memorial Day parade that took place right in front of their shop. To create a hub for local event information, they launched LIV-ETown, an initiative that invites local businesses to band together and use the platform to increase their reach in the community. Each store has its own customer base, and holding events as a group rather than alone boosts exposure and success. LIV-ETown holds free events on the second Friday of every month, geared toward interactive family fun and introducing locals to the businesses in Elizabethtown. Scavenger hunts are the recurring attraction, guiding players through participating stores in the downtown area to locate the items on the hunt sheets.
“The purpose of which is to get people in your doors and to show people what’s downtown,” Tony Gibble said. Most people simply drive straight through town as a means of getting somewhere they already know, so they easily overlook what is there. “Usually what you hear every scavenger hunt is new people come out for it, and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I never knew so many cute shops were downtown,’ or ‘I never knew this was here, I never knew that was here.'” Participants have started traveling from Manheim, Lititz, Lebanon and even further out, because the word has spread: the LIV-ETown events are a wonderful experience for families to come out and enjoy time together.
The next scavenger hunt, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on September 9, will be themed around rubber ducks to bring awareness to the Schreiber Center for Pediatric Development’s Annual Rubber Duckie Race fundraiser, which will take place on Sunday, September 11. On Friday, the Schreiber team will sell rubber duckies and raise awareness for their cause and the race, and scavenger hunters will look for rubber ducks hidden in participating stores. Players who find all the ducks will receive a candy prize from The Candy Unicornium, a business run by the Gibbles that sells vintage and modern candies, and all winners will be entered into a drawing for the grand prize as well.
LIV-ETown will also be holding its Octoberfest Pirates Plunder on Sunday, October 9, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. The event is built around wholesome family fun and will have decorations throughout downtown, people turning out in costume, a storytime for kids, and a scavenger hunt where participants join the pirate crew and collect their own costumes, like eyepatches and fake tattoos.
These free events are sponsored by local businesses and made possible by volunteers. Food trucks and the occasional optional activity are the only things that would require payment. Scavenger hunts often start at Charlamay’s Trinkets and Treasures, but you can always drop by the Tatted Toy Guys to figure out where to go for events. LIV-ETown is on Facebook and Instagram, and an email list and a website are coming soon. To volunteer, become a sponsor, or simply learn more about local events, you can contact the Gibbles or LIV-ETown.
The Tatted Toy Guys Toy Emporium is an outgrowth of the same spirit that encourages the Gibbles to keep LIV-ETown going. The shop, a time capsule in many ways, is a place to go to remember days gone by but also to visit with people who care. “Even more than just offering a place to shop, it’s to have a place of experience,” Clint Gibble said. “It’s an experience that we want to create in our store, of happiness. One of the first times opening the other toy shop, an older lady came in and she said that she was having a really rough day, so she had to come to the toy store because coming in just made her so happy.”
Tony Gibble shared that another customer of theirs, a father, had thanked them for having the store. “By me being able to bring my kids in,” the dad had said, “you make me a rock star to them.” It is those sorts of things that make the store worthwhile to its owners.
Although the store has evolved in many ways since its first conception, at its core it has remained the same. “It was more about experience than anything else,” Tony Gibble said. “Originally it was just to relive the past, but now it does something else. You know, there’s a lot of our guests that have become friends and family of the store that, you know, just come in to talk.”
The store is open 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The hours are subject to change during the holiday season or when the Gibbles are photographing a wedding, and they post updated hours on the store Facebook page. The store’s website is thetattedtoyguys.com, and you can shop their online inventory on the Mercari marketplace app or website.