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Awesome Toys and Gifts looks to live up to its new name in Westport

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Westporters may have no particular problem with Stamford, but would they necessarily shop at a store called Stamford Toys and Books?

That was the situation facing Nick Tarzia when he decided to take the plunge and open a second toy store. Fortunately, his younger customers had the solution.

“Most kids, when they come into the store, yell out ‘Awesome!’ when they see what we have. They named it,” Tarzia laughed.

So it was that the 6,200-square-foot Awesome Toys and Gifts opened at 429 Post Road East in Westport on March 30, with the 5,000-square-foot Stamford store at 970 High Ridge Road also taking the new moniker.

“There’d been a void in that area when it came to toy stores,” the Stamford resident said of Westport, “especially after the Toys ‘R’ Us closed in Norwalk. There’d been a small toy store in Westport, but nothing of any significance for a while.”

Awesome in Westport includes a coffee bar and will feature a number of events – Pokemon tournaments being particularly popular – to make it more of a destination than a simple retail operation, Tarzia said, noting that a similar transition is taking place at the Stamford location.

“We really want it to be more of a community gathering place,” he said. “This way mom and dad can spend an hour, hour-and-a-half here relaxing or working on their laptops while the kids are exploring the toys. It’s been done in bookstores for years, but not so much in toy stores.

“We want people to feel that it’s their store,” he continued. “We’re the stewards of it, and we plan to be very reactive to the customers’ wants and needs. I believe this really is the next generation of retail.”

Tarzia recalled the days when he ran an office supply business.

“That was in 1988” at the Stamford address, he said. “Then the retail world started changing, and in 1991 it became a stationery store and a few years later, a toy business.” That atypical transition was spurred by a phone call from Wilton-based toy company Melissa & Doug asking him to sell its toys on a three-month trial.

“Toys weren’t even on my radar,” Tarzia recalled. “But they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll give it a shot.’ Then we started selling the toys as soon as they came in, so it didn’t take a lot to make the switch.”

Toy fads come and go, but “Legos are always hot. They never go out of style,” he said. Tween girls represent an especially lucrative sector, as demonstrated by the fact that all things BTS, the seven-member South Korean boy band, are flying off the shelves. Tarzia is also expecting big things when “Toy Story 4” opens in June.

Business at the new store has been pretty close to awesome, Tarzia said. “We’re happy to have been welcomed into the Westport neighborhood and we’ll continue trying to be the toy store they want us to be.”

Tarzia said he would like to open “a lot of stores” in Fairfield and Westchester counties, though he has no specific plans for further expansion at the moment.

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