To kids growing up in the Boston area in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the most magical places on Earth could be found at 399 Moody Street in Waltham, MA. That was the home of Mr. Big Toyland, the world’s greatest toy store. This wasn’t your usual toy store; you didn’t just go to Mr. Big for the latest He-Man or G.I. Joe figures (although you could–they had those too). You went to him for Godzilla, for Gaiking, for all those imported Japanese toys you didn’t even know existed until they showed up in his ads.
Japan has long been ahead of America in two fields: technology and collectibles. Even today, Japanese action figures are often light years beyond the best offerings of American companies in terms of sculpting, articulation, and accessories (just check out these Garo figures to see what I mean). Back in the early 1980s, Bandai was making highly detailed Godzilla figures while all we Americans could get was this rather sad Imperial imposter.
In a brilliant marketing move, Mr. Big Toyland ran their ad–the very same ad you see above, I never saw a different one–during Creature Double Feature, a weekly dose of monster movies that gave young Poe and countless other New England children a lifelong love of rubbery monsters. Forget Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik–I wanted to watch the King of the Monsters take down Megalon, Gigan, or the baddest-ass mofo of them all, Ghidorah.
Mr. Big Toyland was in Waltham, which might as well be Fiji to a young kid from South Weymouth or, later, Carver. My dad’s work took him near the store, though, so on rare occasions, I was gifted with some of my favorite toys ever, including a Shogun Warriors Space Dragon (a.k.a. Kargosaur), and several different Bandai Godzilla toys.
I vaguely remember going to Mr. Big once–probably after one of those take-your-child-to-work days. It was like walking through Heaven’s toy shop. I remember getting just a couple things–two little Godzilla spark toys, Godzilla himself and Mechagodzilla.
While living in our apartment in South Weymouth, my dad and I played a board game called “T. rex” or something like that. I decided to use the little sparky Godzilla as a stand-in for the cardboard Tyrannosaurus token. Years later, after we’d moved to Carver, I had my dad dig out the old board game and lo and behold, there was the sparky Godzilla. It was just one of many, many times I amazed my parents with my total recall of where any and all of my toys were at any given time.
Mr. Big Toyland was also one of the first stores to offer imported toys. Along with running ads during Creature Double Feature, Mr. Big also advertised during Force Five, the early syndicated anime block that helped popular Japanese animation. Many collectors of Japanese toys, such as those at CollectionDX and ToyBoxDX, got their first Grandizer or Gundam at Mr. Big Toyland.
Here’s how one collector, Michael Denker, recalls the store:
Man, Mr. Big Toyland, where do I start? I started going to Mr. Big’s in the early 1980s. Must have seen the ad on tv as I had no idea of downtown Waltham prior to that. I picked up my Super Power figures there, I passed on Cyborg for some reason, and I think it was because he had marked it up more than the other figures. I remember him going down to the basement, man, I thought that basement must be something else, and come up with some obscure item I had asked about. I was really into cartoon related figures, and he had some old Flintstone finger puppets and stuff down there. At the time I didn’t really focus on the extensive Japanese stuff ( I would grow to appreciate Japanese toys later) Now I collect Japanese soft-vinyls, Bullmarks, Marusans, popy, etc. in addition to the cartoon figures. That place was a gem. There should be a fan club of people who remember it fondly.
For Josh Bernard, founder of CollectionDX, Mr. Big Toyland remains a kind of Shangri-La.
When I was a kid, after-school TV ruled my life. All of these shows that, as adults, we buy all these overpriced collectibles from, I used to watch those shows back in the late 70s, early 80s.
I remember watching Battle of the Planets – it came right on after The Banana Splits. I remember watching Starblazers, and racing home after school to see how many days left to save the earth. And most of all, I watched Force Five. Each day of the week a new show – Gaiking, Starvengers, Dangard Ace, Grendizer, Spaceketeers. And in-between each of these shows was a magical commercial.
I would go apeshit over that commercial. I used to beg my mom to take me there. Day after day I was taunted by that commercial, beckoning me to visit this nirvana. Images of toys of the shows I was watching, most never seen at Child World or Toys R Us. Diecast Argo. Diecast Phoenix. They haunted my dreams.
My parent’s never took me to Mr Big’s Toyland. I never went.
Sure, I got plenty of Japanese toys as a kid, but I never put two and two together. One day, as an adult, I asked my mom, “Why did you never bring me to Mr Big’s Toyland?”
She replied – “Oh, that place in Waltham? I got all your Shogun Warriors there.” She continued – “I never brought you because I would never have gotten you out of there.”
As a parent now, I understand. If it’s a present you don’t want to spoil the surprise. Sometimes you have to do that. But that commercial still haunts my dreams. I still imagine what the store was like, filled with Japanese Toys. I know now that wasn’t the case, as the chogokin just took up a small area of the store, but in my dreams, it was everything I imagined it to be.
I’ve made the pilgrimage to 399 Moody St. I’ve stood at the door of the building and looked inside, tried to imagine what it looked like.
The crazy thing is the amount of influence that commercial had. I have met so many people in this hobby who blame that store and that commercial for who they are now. We were all growing up in the same environment, watching the same shows, playing the same toys. But somehow this affected us more deeply than what the other kids were into. We were hooked, and it was an obsession that would follow us into our adulthood, all thanks to Mr Big’s Toyland.
Sadly, Mr. Big Toyland has been gone for years now, its niche filled by the Internet and other hobby shops and specialty stores. But Mr. Big lives on as a fond memory among us New England collectors.