Victoria’s Toy Station has been open for more than three decades, but the COVID-era holiday season may be its most meaningful yet

Nearly 300,000 toys are just past the front door of a little yellow house on Government Street.

Floor to ceiling, there’s something exciting to see at every eye level inside Victoria’s Toy Station.

The littlest shoppers are greeted by board games and miniature cars poking out from the bottom shelves. Stuffed animals seem to smile playfully at adult-height shoppers. And those whose imagination draws them to look toward the sky are rewarded with a view of shiny objects hanging from the ceiling: glittering disco balls, iridescent umbrellas and tinsel chandeliers.

With the toy shop celebrating its 36th birthday this year, it might be one of Mid City’s oldest stores. It helped set the tone early on for the eclectic, artsy neighborhood—because there’s so much more to this shop than Magic Markers, Play-Doh and Lava Lamps.

In a room dedicated to dolls, chandeliers made of vintage Barbies dangle from the ceiling. In a bathtub-themed room, there are bubbles painted on the ceiling. Baskets brim with crayons shaped like ice cream cones and rubber snakes as long as your arm.

This is a toy store with a sense of humor. A toy store tailored to, well, kids.

On a rainy morning, owner Katie Shoriak walks across the creaky wood floors toward the store’s entrance. She adjusts her face mask as she greets the handful of customers shopping today.

It’s a late summer day, but Shoriak is already thinking of the holidays.

“People need Christmas,” she says. “It’s going to give people something to look forward to.”

It’s been a wild year in the toy world. Markets were canceled. When schools closed and stir-crazy families were stuck at home, demand increased—while supply decreased. It’s been harder than ever to keep Shoriak’s store stocked, and she estimates the shelves only had one-third of their usual supply for much of the stay-at-home order.

She misses the way her regular customers’ kids used to run into the store and wrap her in hugs. But she and her team have learned to adapt. After the shutdown was announced, they had a new store website and e-commerce platform running within three days. For Easter, customers dropped off baskets, entrusting the store to decorate and fill them with goodies for their children.

All of it has Shoriak dreaming of happier times. By early November, the shop will be dressed in twinkle lights and garland.

“I love the way the store is at Christmas. You walk in, and that Christmastime feeling just takes over,” she says. “It feels like a wonderland.”

A “wonderland” was exactly what Shoriak’s mother, DeeDee Culotta, had in mind when she first opened the store in 1984. The original Victoria’s Toy Station was part of Catfish Town, an old marketplace that operated on a former freight station site downtown in the mid ’80s and early ’90s.

The shop moved to Government Street in 1989, still a couple years before Superior Grill would open across the street, and decades before many of the area’s hip restaurants and shops arrived.

“The difference today is night and day, but my mom knew the area would one day be what it is now. She took a chance on it,” Shoriak says.

That chance has paid off, because Shoriak now runs the store she used to play in as a 4-year-old. All of her nieces have worked in the shop, and Culotta herself is still involved as the store’s visionary. From day one, the store has remained an escape, a therapeutic refuge from the outside world.

Even in a year with so much uncertainty, a year when people need an escape more than ever, Shoriak is looking forward to the future—and just maybe another several decades on Government Street.

“I hope in-person retail lasts. People don’t realize how important shopping local is,” she says. “My 9-year-old says this store is going to be hers one day. And I hope it will be.” victoriastoystation.com

This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.