A Day With The Toy Hunter

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Last Saturday, in celebration of my friend Jack’s 30th birthday, we embarked upon the most glorious part of our mission to reclaim our childhoods, one toy at a time. With our friends and fellow nerds Andrew and Cory in tow, we took the long trip up to Westwood, New Jersey, to visit Hollywood Heroes, a vintage collectibles shop owned by Jordan Hembrough of TV’s Toy Hunter. The store is only open for a handful of hours on Fridays and Saturdays, as Hembrough travels around the world looking for vintage toys of untold value. On Toy Hunter, which was the highest-rated show on the Travel Channel before the network inexplicably cancelled it, he would raid the basements and attics of other toy collectors, searching for rare toys to resell at his store, at conventions such as Comic-Con, or to his celebrity clients like Gene Simmons from KISS, or Kirk Hammett from Metallica. 

When we arrived at the store, it seemed smaller than we imagined from the outside, but what we would find on the inside would be monumental for us. We weren’t sure if he would actually be there that day, but sure enough, Hembrough was sitting behind the counter when we walked in. Jack and I briefly met him at the New York Comic-Con in 2013, after we sat in on his panel, and made some purchases at his stand. I awkwardly referred to that meeting when I walked into the store and introduced myself, to which he funnily replied “of course, I’m sorry, how could I forget?”, smacking himself on the side of the head. I suppose I just don’t know how to act around someone who I idolize.

Me in a Captain America t-shirt, and Jack in a Chewbacca shirt (yes, it was planned) were asked what we were looking for. Jack, a huge Star Wars fan, was looking for some of the original action figures, and I was decidedly in the market for vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, many of which I saw on the store’s website, and hanging on the wall when we walked in. I had just about every one of the original TMNT figures you could imagine, but as an irresponsible kid, I lost or broke most of them, and the ones that were left (with the exception of a few that were miraculously saved) were tossed or given away by my parents when it became apparent that I had lost interest in them. In fairness, I did lose interest in toys as a teen. It wasn’t until I met Jack in 2009 that the floodgates were reopened, when he bought me a Ghostbusters toy for Christmas. I quickly rediscovered my former obsession with toys and action figures and began collecting everything my wallet would allow from 80’s and 90’s classics like Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, and more.

Fast-forward back to today, and the two of us are wandering around in Hollywood Heroes, which was something that we had wanted to do since the store opened in 2014. We were in awe of the collection he had displayed in the showroom, and he could tell that we were serious about dropping some dough, so Hembrough brought us down into the basement, and allowed us to dig through the massive amount of toys that comprised this makeshift warehouse. He stuck with us the whole time, chatting with us about the cancellation of his show, toy lines, movies, and his plans for the future. Hembrough is a lovable geek, just like us, and was extraordinarily personable, engaging in casual conversation with us for the duration of our hunt. Despite the fact that he’s a TV star, and is now world-famous in the realm of toys, he couldn’t be more down-to-earth. He’s just a guy from Jersey who fell in love with Star Wars toys when he was a kid and was fortunate enough to turn that passion into a career. Jack and I already have plans to return to Hollywood Heroes, and I may have to take out a second mortgage on my house to cover the nerdy damage I plan to do there.

Ultimately, I walked out with three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, pictured below. Jack got himself a prized Han Solo figure from Star Wars, along with a couple other selections. It was an amazing experience, well worth the wait and the near two-hour drive each way. I highly recommend it for any serious toy collector.

Baxter Stockman, the villainous scientist who morphed into a fly. I had this figure when I was a kid, and I’m ecstatic that I was able to reclaim it, on an unpunched card, in great condition.

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Ray Fillet, the fist fighting fish, who changes colors when put into water! I can’t for the life of me remember whether or not I actually had this in my youth, but I certainly remember the existence of him. Also on an unpunched card, and in fantastic condition for a toy that was made in 1988.

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Krang, perhaps the most furious adversary to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, short of the Shredder.  A brain inside of a mobile android body, you fight this bad guy in the Technodrome at the end of the TMNT arcade game. The bottom corners of the card are bent, and the bubble is a bit yellowed, but the toy itself is pristine, and I couldn’t pass it up. I also had this when I was a wee lad, and I may have even sprouted a tear of joy when I found it that day in the store.

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