Pictured above, Danny Simovic (left) and Betty Walker (right) smile at their booth ToyUtopia in Walker Drugstore Antique Mall located on 328 5th Avenue Northwest in downtown Attalla.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Local pop culture enthusiasts and toy lovers need look no further than downtown Attalla. Located inside Walker Drugstore Antique Mall at 328 5th Avenue NW rests ToyUtopia, the perfect fusion of vintage and modern finds designed to cater to every collector’s craving.
Coworking couple Betty Walker and Danny Simovic operate the antique mall on behalf of Walker’s father, keeping the building (which was once Walker’s grandfather’s pharmacy) in the family. Although Walker and Simovic began their journey as toy vendors inside the store, when presented with the opportunity to run the store in its entirety, the pair could not decline. Walker and Simovic inherited the torch from the previous owners a little over a year ago, and their expansion and growth has yet to cease since.
From Care Bears plushies to Kenner Star Wars action figures to Voltron lions, ToyUtopia features iconic collectibles that evoke nostalgia, reminding customers of their childhoods. Simovic noted that as people drift through their store, their eyes will lock on a particular toy and light up. He reflected on a recent couple who visited the store to purchase albums, but when walking past ToyUtopia, exclaimed, “I had that when I was a kid!”
While ToyUtopia provides guests with classic memorabilia from their youth, the booth also serves the children of today. Walker thoroughly researches current trending toys, bundling pieces into sets geared towards younger age dynamics and featuring recent characters (like Disney’s Rapunzel) that children would recognize and enjoy.
But ToyUtopia is not limited to toys alone. The booth also carries an impressive selection of comic books (via Tim Phillips) filled with entertaining and fantastic stories, and artwork created by Sabrina Frazier, who designed the booth’s banner. With a constant flow of ever-changing merchandise, the possibilities for discovery remain limitless.
The pair shared two lessons they learned while operating their business.
“You want to engage your customers, whoever they may be,” said Simovic. “You want them to feel welcome and be friendly, and you want people to chat with you and have a great time while they’re on your premises.”
“I try to keep in mind what other businesses have in their stores, so I can tell people if they didn’t find it here, they can go over there,” said Walker. “I want them to have a good experience. Being able to point out the other stores betters the town.”
Walker and Simovic merged their love of travel with their business, exploring the ‘wild’ for unique and one-of-a-kind finds to add to their inventory. The ‘wild’ refers to the plethora of locations the couple visits – flea markets, yard sales, thrift stores and other antique malls – unearthing hidden treasures and crossing covert shops off their map. Overturning each stone and peering into every nook are essential in the toy business, with Simovic and Walker unveiling lost gems with each new trip.
In fact, a trip is what brought the two together, writing an origin story fit for the screen. While Simovic and Walker were long-distance friends online for a number of years, the moment they met proved no less than cinematic. When Walker flew to New York (Simovic’s home state) for Comic Con in 2012, Simovic decided to join her for the event to ensure she remained safe while she experienced the city.
As she emerged from LaGuardia Airport in Queens, Simovic emerged from a cab. The two locked eyes instantly, recognizing one another from previous Skype calls. Yet although the two were excited to communicate in person, the congested Big Apple traffic kept them apart. Each time Simovic attempted to cross the street, the whir of vehicles whooshed past him, and he jumped back. When they both began laughing at the situation, the ice was broken, and the rest was history.
Although some couples prefer to work apart, Simovic and Walker arise as the quintessential dynamic duo: two passionate people sharing their interests with others. While Walker serves as the technical wiz, Simovic is the schmoozer.
“That’s what makes it work,” said Simovic. “We’ve been together eight plus years and counting. We absolutely adore and love each other. That’s why I think we’re a little bit special – she has her area of expertise, and I have mine.”
“I wouldn’t want a better coworker,” said Walker about Simovic. “I love his Tetris mind, and how he organizes and keeps everything straight and clean. It’s really impressive what he can do, especially with our toy collection.”
Both possess a collector’s heart, growing up with endless arrays of toys during their childhoods. Their merchandise dates back to the 1960s, surging into the present, as both have their specialties. The store’s motto, “What’s your Holy Grail?” prompts visitors to discover the missing piece to their collection, letting them know that regardless of the item, Walker and Simovic will search to find their request. The booth also harbors a strong online presence, selling items via Ebay or shipping gifts to pleased customers.
The name ToyUtopia flawlessly encompasses the booth’s theme of an ideal toy dreamland, enriched with specialized items catered to every age that walks through its doors. From the bright eyed five-year-old filled with wonder, gleaming sight of a beloved My Little Pony, to the wise 50-year-old, rediscovering her inner child, Simovic and Walker understand the importance of treasuring those aspects of childhood that linger as the years pass. Through ToyUtopia, they rekindle the magic of imaginative play and fuel the fun of former years, reminding children and adults alike that each experience at their booth sparks priceless memories – perfect for any collection.
“It’s a perfect fusion of antiques and collectibles,” said Simovic. “You have a little of everything from all encompassing eras for everybody, whether it’s the oldest person or the youngest one. What I love is when somebody comes in strictly for ToyUtopia, and they might notice an antique, or, they might come in strictly for an antique, then walk through [ToyUtopia] and say, ‘Rainbow Brite! I’ve got to get her.’ I love that – it’s kind of what separates us from everybody else. This isn’t just us trying to earn a dollar or buy something just so someone would buy it from us. We actually, genuinely, passionately love this stuff. It’s something I can see us doing for a very long time.”
ToyUtopia is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 256-553-1409 or visit Facebook.com/toyutopiausa.