Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Johnny's grows but keeps Latonia roots

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Construction begins this week on the privately financed, $2 million relocation and expansion of Johnny's Toys.

        The 61-year-old toy store, known for letting its young customers pick out a free birthday gift, is expected to move into a 44,000-square-foot location next fall.

        It will be built at Howard Litzler and Boron Drive, in front of the company's corporate headquarters and warehouse. The current store is nearby at the Latonia Centre.

        “When we knew we had to do some expansion and add some attractions, we wanted to stay in Latonia, where our roots are,” said president Tom Martin, who runs Johnny's Toys with his brother, John Martin.

        A groundbreaking ceremony is Wednesday. The company also has stores in Greenhills, Milford, and the Cincinnati neighborhood of Westwood in Ohio.

        The new store will be about a third larger than the present one, he said.

        “We felt like we needed an expanded inventory,” Mr. Martin said. “We're going to expand our selection in sporting goods, infants and hobbies. Things like model railroading, radio-controlled planes, cars and boats are real popular right now.”

        The new store also will feature entertainment facilities designed for children 10 and younger, including a half-scale trolley ride, a small amphitheater and stage and outdoor play equipment.

        The new store will add 10 to 15 employees, Mr. Martin said.

        Johnny's Toys began in 1939 when Bill Martin took over Miss Mary's candy store on Decoursey Avenue and made toys a year-round attraction, instead of just a Christmas staple.

        It got its name when Bill Martin served in the Pacific during World War II and Bill's older brother, John Martin, ran the store and became well known in Latonia.

        The store moved to its present site in the Latonia Centre in 1990.

        One of Johnny's most popular traditions is the Birthday Castle. Customers register their children's names and birthdays and when it's near, Johnny's mails them a key to the castle. On their birthday, the children can come in and pick a toy from the orange and yellow castle.

        “I went there as a child,” said Mayor Jim Eggemeier, 45. “Everybody got a key to the castle mailed to them. It's been a Covington tradition for a long, long time.”

        The tradition will continue with a larger version at the new site, Mr. Martin said.


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