The young Johnny Jimenez was different from most children. Instead of getting a dollar when he lost a tooth, he would often find a silver certificate or a Morgan dollar under his pillow.
His father, a garbage man in Bakersfield, Calif., was an avid collector of antique money, and from a young age Jimenez knew the value of an old piece.
“I always loved the old stuff, I loved the history behind it,” Jimenez said.
“On my first birthday, my uncle bought me a box full of Star Wars toys but my mom actually gave it to me when I was a little older. At that time I knew better, to save them and not to open them. That started my collection of toys.”
Fending off his three brothers, Jimenez kept his toys in mint condition, never leaving their original packaging. He became friends with local antique dealers and started buying and selling old books, medicine bottles and toys that his dad would bring home from work.
Now 32, Jimenez is the proud owner of the Toy Shack, a toy store that specializes in collectible toys from as far back as the 1920s. When he is not explaining the history behind the toys to customers from all over the world, he is negotiating the sale of a Hot Wheels die cast model car for $1,600.
His lifelong hobby turned into his now 5-year-old business when the sign company he was managing started to go under. The store started from his personal collection and grew as he purchased toys from a local distributor and antique stores that were closing. The store’s inventory now includes more than 15,000 Hot Wheels that are over a decade old and an account with Mattel and Hasbro for new merchandise.
“I became a single dad at 19 so I knew that I couldn’t go into the corporate world and work the long shifts,” Jimenez said. “I never looked at it as a career. I said, ‘Let me give it a shot.’ It started small and built up a clientele.”
His business is getting some national attention. The Toy Shack has been featured on the History Channel’s highest rated show, “Pawn Stars,” centered on the now famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop run by Rick Harrison.
“I would let all the pawnshops know that I buy toys. And that’s how the relationship started,” Jimenez said.
In his first appearance on “Pawn Stars,” Jimenez consults Harrison on the appraisal of a collection of Transformers worth an estimated $20,000.
“Me and my daughter watched the show when it first started, so we were big fans from the beginning,” said Jimenez, who grew up watching “Antiques Roadshow.” “It was awesome to be a part of it. In the last 40 days, we’ve had four appearances on ‘Pawn Stars’ and have a future appearance on ‘American Restoration.’ People are starting to demand more toys on the show.”
The buzz prompted Jimenez to move from his previous location, on Paradise Road, to Fremont Street, in the Neonopolis outdoor mall, where he said the number of visitors to his store has increased tremendously.
“We’re here sometimes until 1 a.m.,” Jimenez said.
A customer may want a Ninja Turtle or a figurine from “The Simpsons.” This month a man bought $4,000 in antique toys.
“Our store is the only one that’s diversified,” Jimenez said. “We have everything from model kits to RC Helicopters to Barbie. Almost everything you see in the store, you can’t buy at Toys ‘R’ Us, you can’t buy at Walmart or any comic shop.”
The Toy Shack will have a formal grand opening of its downtown location, 450 Fremont St., on Oct. 1.
Jimenez hopes adults and children alike enjoy his toys and their history.