Lost Hobby Shops: Toyworld

Toyworld is an Australian toy store franchise that is still operating in dozens of locations around the country.

But while it’s not “lost”, and a lot of Toyworld businesses are still going strong, many of the stores in Sydney suburbs and towns have closed up over the years. Including where I grew up.


The first toy store I ever visited as a youngster growing up in Australia in the 1980s was probably a Toyworld store. With their purple bear mascot and colourful signage, Toyworld was always easy to spot in the main street of any suburb or town. And on many occasions as a child, spot them I did – usually calling out to my parents from the back seat of the car to ask if we could stop there. Probably while they were trying to complete a difficult three-point-turn against traffic, during an outing to the supermarket.

I have fond memories now of Toyworld stores because the ones I knew seemed more like what a child of the 1980s might expect a traditional little toy shop to be – that is to say rather small, but quite jam-packed with mainstream, popular toys. Even to the point where many of the cheaper, impulse-buy toys might be clustered around the counter, leaving the shopkeeper with limited space for the cash register. Not all Toyworlds were like this (some were quite spacious and modern, even back in the 80s). But a lot of them were definitely crammed into compact, narrow shopfronts, in the main streets of suburbs or country towns. And there was always something wonderful about them. Like a colourful oasis among all the boring clothing stores and chicken shops.

In that sense, Toyworld stores in those days were a lot like the ZIGZAG stores I wrote about a while ago – and I’ve no doubt many of these stores simply switched brandings over the years, as their allegiances changed. Both were smaller than the likes of Uncle Pete’s Toys. But they were also far more numerous. And while I never had the pleasure of visiting those massive Uncle Pete’s supermarkets during their heyday, I certainly found myself in the vicinity of dozens of Toyworlds during my childhood. It seemed like they were everywhere.

They also had some TV commercials. Like this one. But please, viewer discretion is advised. You are about to be hit in the face with a maximum dose of 1980s

video

Yes, this is how we used to live my friends 🤔 Back when TV commercials like this were considered normal and delightful, and not cheesy at all. 😉 (Or maybe they were always cheesy. But we just accepted them somehow).

That commercial was actually copied, or shall we say “inspired by” some famous American Toys R Us commercials of the same era. And those were even followed (in true American style) by sequels featuring the original kids now as adults, some of whom (also in true American style) even went on to become actors.

And while I’m probably going to get past the devastation of knowing that fine theme song is gone forever, I do think it’s unfortunate that many Toyworlds are gone – thus freeing up today’s kids to spend more time… erm… on the Internet/smartphones? 🤷‍♂️

To take Sydney as the main example. Toyworld seems to have long since abandoned Australia’s largest city sometime in 1990s or 2000s, retreating at least 100kms away to various NSW country towns. In other states of Australia, Toyworld do still have metropolitan outlets. And there are also still some stores in neighboring New Zealand. Nevertheless, there just aren’t as many dedicated, small toy shops around as there used to be. And I sometimes wonder if there might one day be a generation of kids who grow up without ever seeing a store that “just sells toys” – except perhaps an online store.

Growing up in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney during the 1980s/1990s, the nearest toy shop to my house was a Toyworld located in the main street of Katoomba – the largest town in the Blue Mountains. The store was simply called Katoomba Toyworld or perhaps Blue Mountains Toyworld. Earlier it had apparently been called Katoomba Toy & Hobby Centre, before joining the Toyworld chain. It’s exact location was 119 Katoomba St.

In a rare 1983 photo from the Blue Mountains Library (below) the owner of the store, Tom Tolley, can be seen sitting behind the shop with his van. The van and the brickwork of the store (in the background) both feature colourful toy shop signage…

The “Fireworks” advertising most likely relates to the “cracker night” here in Australia, which used to occur each May or June. Back in those days, fireworks were openly sold in stores for a celebration night of the birthday of either Queen Victoria, or later, Queen Elizabeth II. This practice ended when firecrackers were banned in most states, due to risk of injury. Based on this photo, it looks like the fireworks at Toyworld had been reduced to the bargain price of “free”.

One of my fondest childhood memories of this particular store, is of a weekend visit with my father. It was a rainy, misty day and it would have been in the late 1980s. I distinctly remember that I got this Corgi bus (below) for the grand sum of $4. This is the actual one from that day. And it has sat on shelves in my homes, in all the years since…

There was a time when getting a toy as simple as this (albeit a very nice model by Corgi) felt truly special. And my parents were always careful not to spoil their kids with too many gifts. So it made the ones you did get, all the more appreciated. And ironically, while I probably resented not getting everything I wanted at the time, today I feel grateful for their restraint. Because I think it instilled in me a sort of respect for things. Hence the bus was enjoyed but never smashed, and hardly has a mark on it to this day.

For some reason, these red Corgi buses were being sold at a discount when we got ours, and I can remember they were all lined up on the counter. My dad – always on the lookout for diecast model car bargains (and who had been collecting them even long before I was born) – thought he’d struck gold. You see, we didn’t normally buy the larger diecast cars like this, on account of them being “too expensive”.

Today, that bus is worth… well, probably still $4. But of course, I wouldn’t sell it for a thousand times that amount.

Other details I remember about Katoomba Toyworld were that the store was narrow, but long. And it had a very specific sign out the front hanging under the awning (above the footpath) that read “30-70% Off Toy Sale!”. And I remember that this sign stayed there for years. My Dad and I often used to joke about it – how could a sale run that long? By the early 1990s the owner must have agreed. But all he did was swap it to one that said “Discount Toy Sale!”. 

According to other information from the Blue Mountains Library, it seems the same man also operate another Toyworld in nearby Springwood. Because it wasn’t uncommon for there to be a Toyworld in every large-ish town. I remember the Springwood store also, and I recalled a visit to it in my article about the Shinsei Dust Runner.

Today, both stores are long gone. But if you walk behind the row of terrace-like buildings in the main street of Katoomba, here is what you can still see…

Katoomba Toyland toy shop's painted sign still survives, on the back of the building.

Yes, the painted brickwork of Katoomba Toyworld (or “Toyland” as it became) lives on, among the lovely rubbish bins of an alleyway. The shop has now been gone for almost 30 years. And incidentally, the shop space itself is now occupied, thrillingly, by a chicken shop.

I can’t recall any specific R/C car related memories while visiting Katoomba Toyworld. But most likely that’s because I was being steered away (pun intended) from them, by my parents. The store certainly stocked “hobbies” though, because most toy stores did back in the 1980s. This was after all, the era in which things like Tamiya R/C kits were available not just in hobby shops – but electronics shops, supermarkets and even Ford dealerships. Such was their immense popularity.

There is only one other reference I have found over the years, to my long lost Katoomba Toyworld. And it appeared just a few months ago when I stumbled upon something very rare in an antique store. It seems the shop must have sold a limited run of customized, store-branded Matchbox Model T Fords under the Models of Yesteryear line, with stickers applied to them after manufacturing.

Such an unusual rarity comes at a price today. So I took a photo of it at the antique store, just to prove it existed…

Katoomba Toyworld custom branded Matchbox Model T Ford

Over the months that followed, I kept thinking about how nice it would be to add this souvenir to my die-cast model collection. And especially once I began writing this article, I started to worry that someone else might buy it. After all, what were my chances of ever finding another one? It seemed to be so rare, that I couldn’t find any information about it online.

So, I bought it. And yes, I am crazy. But I’m still glad I did…

By the early 1990s, Katoomba Toyworld had disappeared. But so, it seems, did a lot of other Toyworlds.

While searching the web for more information about this tendency for Toyworlds to close down in a lot of suburbs and towns, I came across other examples – as usual citing changing retail conditions, or other factors. Much the same, I suspect, as the slow closure of most specialist hobby stores.

One example was North Coast Hobby Centre, aka North Coast Toyworld located in the NSW coastal town of Lismore (north of Sydney)…

North Coast Hobby Centre (Toyworld) Lismore closed down in January 2019 after being in business for 65 years.

North Coast Hobby Centre (Toyworld) Lismore closed down in January 2019 after being in business for 65 years.North Coast Toyworld had been in business for 65 years. It was considered such sad news for the town, that it’s closure was front-page news on their local newspaper.

It is of course no secret also, that during the 1990s a lot of small or independent toy stores closed or relocated due to the influx of large toy “supermarkets” like Toys R Us from America, or the locally-owned (but equally illiterate) World 4 Kids chain. But in more recent years we have also seen the worldwide collapse of Toys R Us themselves. Suggesting the toy business itself is not as stable as it was in the 1990s or earlier.

As you can probably gather, one thing I always liked about Toyworld was their tendency to sell a bit of everything. And that included R/C cars and other hobby items. It wasn’t uncommon to see a mixed range of both toys and more serious hobby items even in their little kid-friendly, mini-sized catalogues.

This next image is from a Toyworld catalogue in 1992, when they were advertising the 1/10 Tamiya Madcap kit and the 1/10 Rookie Rabbit ready-to-run model, along with the ready-to-run 1/14 scale Tamiya Quick Drive Manta Ray and Avante 2001…

Sometime in the late 2000s, I got to thinking: If all the old toy stores used to sell R/C hobby stuff back in the 1980s and 1990s, perhaps if someone phoned all the surviving Toyworlds around Australia they might have some luck finding a few bits of old leftover shop stock of R/C parts? Of course, the cost and time involved in such a project, together with the small likelihood of actually finding anything, meant only an idiot would attempt to do that.

So of course, I did it.

Fortunately, despite racking up an impressive phone bill, my theory proved correct. And I ended up finding quite a few old R/C related bits and pieces. Including many vintage Tamiya spare parts.

One example of something I found came from a remote Toyworld in northern Queensland. It was a  vintage Tamiya Super Shot body parts set from 1986 (shown below), which I got for a mere $10. The staff who worked at the store when I rang in 2009 had never even heard of a Super Shot, and you can hardly blame them. The car had been discontinued for 20 years by then. So they were happy to get rid of any bits related to it…

Of course, these days, a Tamiya Super Shot body parts sets can sell for upwards of $200 on eBay.

Other lucky Toyworld finds included a vintage Tamiya Fox chassis, many sets of brand new vintage Jet Hopper tyres for around $5 per pair (worth around $100+ each these days), and even the original front bumper set for a Tamiya Sand Scorcher. In total there were dozens of parts, and I left nothing behind. I think I spent about $500 in total. All of it went toward my various restorations and projects, and was put to good use. And I’d have to say the Toyworld staff were helpful and friendly in every instance, when dealing with a strange fanatic calling on the phone about 30 year old toy cars. They seemed genuinely glad that the bits were finally going to a good home.

It’s also worth mentioning that despite my lengthy articles like this, I may not be the only person with nostalgia for the likes of Toyworld. Some years ago, a few old 1980s Toyworld catalogues were listed by someone on eBay. A bidding war ensued, and of the four or five listed I only managed to win one of them. I bidded too low, assuming they would be easy pickings for about $5 each. Only to learn that Transformers, Lego and My Little Pony fanatics were more than happy to push the prices to well over $30 each. Not bad for flyers that used to arrive free in the mail.

In the years since then, I’ve learned my lesson and I’ve managed to cobble together some more rare Toyworld catalogues or at least images of R/C cars taken from ancient, 1980s Toyworld catalogues. So what better way to finish this article, than with some of the best images I have…

This next one is a little grainy, but comes from a 1986 Toyworld catalogue featuring the Tamiya Falcon, Tamiya Fox, Metro F10 Buggy (better known worldwide as the Nikko Bison F10), and of course the Metro (aka Taiyo) Jet Hopper

Next up is an amazing Toyworld catalogue page from 1985, featuring the Tamiya Hornet, Tamiya Frog and Tamiya Hotshot – plus the free Tamiya carry bag you got if you purchased a car. What a great deal…

Here’s a page featuring the beautiful Metro Bullet 4WD (aka Taiyo Jet Racer 4WD) from 1987…which as everyone knows, was a bit like a little version of the Tamiya Boomerang…

Or what about the days when AFX and Scalextric meant racing sets featuring the Williams “Canon” Honda and Ferrari F1 cars, or the Ford Sierras at Bathurst? This scan is from a 1992 Toyworld catalogue…

And last but not least, one more Toyworld commercial video. Low quality this time, and with just as much annoying singing as the last one… except that it features 2 seconds of a Tamiya Hotshot!

video

And while I am in no way affiliated with Toyworld (or any business), if you happen to want to check them out – click here.

Do you have any interesting, early memories of Toyworld? Or did you get something fun there (like an R/C car) back in 80s or 90s? As always, feel free to share your comments below.

2 comments

  1. Great article! I remember there used to be a Toyworld in my town too, but it closed in the 2000s. A lot of the cause i think is that supermarkets and stores like Big W and KMart also sell toys. But their toy aisles are a lot worse now than they used to be in the 1980s when they had more stuff like RC and even model trains and plastic models and slot cars. Now its all cheap crap and movie tie-ins.

  2. Awesome write up love it. My brother and i loved Toyworld in Adelaide in the 80s. we bought heaps of jet hopper parts from there. Even in the 2000s era my daughter and i always went there. In 2006 she spotted a super hornet in shrink wrap on the shelf i bought it straight away, then i found a hotshot body set for 5.00 . Its sad to see them closing down.

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