Unboxing nostalgia: Time Warp Toys & Collectibles in Fairborn reconnects customers with childhood memories

It’s a great cultural moment for nerds.

If the evidence isn’t clear by the myriad sci-fi and superhero movie releases in recent years, then walking into Fairborn’s Time Warp Toys and Collectibles should do the trick.

Aptly located in the old Video Outlet on West Main, next door to comic lovers’ Bookery, Time Warp is a pop culture haven that combines countless collecting subgenres, offering one place for nearly every kind of toy imaginable, along with a few unexpected ones (like a miniature Pee-wee Herman for instance).

Time Warp leans into nostalgia with floor-to-ceiling merch — some used and some in rare, mint condition — generating overstimulation comparable to that of a child on a candy kick.

But that’s what Time Warp allows their customers to do: transport back to a time when getting a new toy — or more commonly reuniting with one they’ve been looking for since childhood — was the only thing on their mind. Both father-and-son owners, Ron and Chris Barnett, are happy to provide that service — at affordable prices, no less.

Their current location has been around for eight years, though they originally had a smaller space on the other end of the street for a year before that. The move was ostensibly to keep up with their growing piles of merchandise, the overflow of which is now stored in a back room hidden behind the late ‘80s bedsheet acting as a door.

September will mark Time Warp’s 10th year in business as brick-and-mortar, but even longer for the Barnetts as collectors and flea marketers of new and vintage relics.

“I was kind of born into this because my brother had the cool ‘80s toys,” Chris said. “We would fight over who would play with what, so my dad would go to the store and buy two. If we didn’t break it or fight over who got it, one stayed safe in the package forever.”

And because of that radical double-purchase method, the Barnetts had enough pristine packaged merch to sell when they started frequenting flea markets, antique malls, conventions and trading card shows. Based on the amount of Funko Pops and WWE action figures Time Warp currently houses, it may be no surprise that Chris could open up another store with his collection at home.

Ron — sometimes affectionately known around the store as Santa Claus — loved toys growing up, and he still loves them into his 60s. Early on in his life, he told himself that he was going to own a toy store one day, and, alongside his son, that lifelong quest came true.

“I just like to see somebody else’s enjoyment,” Ron said. “I like to see people come in and reminisce and smile and say ‘hey, I had that when I was growing up.’ And I can provide it if they want it. They can be 75 or 15. It’s a pretty neat thing.”

Wrestling figurines are an everyday seller at Time Warp, and even Starting Lineups are starting to make a comeback (likely a product of the pandemic’s trading card boom). They’ve got Lego sets behind the counter, and Barbies and Transformers wherever there’s room.

Scanning the adorned walls of Time Warp, one can find just about everything collectible adjacent — everything, that is, but Beanie Babies. In Chris’ words: sell them, but not to me.

Time Warp’s clientele seems to be in their late teens to mid-thirties. While some come looking for vintage — although those collections are hard to luck into — most customers are there for the current memorabilia (like the unopposable models from Marvel Legends, Star Wars The Black Series, et al). Oftentimes department stores forgo carrying complete sets of figures in a series, or toy line, but Time Warp usually fills in the gaps for collectors by typically carrying them all.

When Chris got the ‘80s hand-me-downs from his brother, it laid the groundwork for his fascination, further cementing those collecting habits by going into the toy business with his father. But the connection runs even deeper than that.

Chris has had customers and friends tell him they’d lost childhood collections to garage sales, moves or housefires. When he hears those anecdotes, a seed gets planted: not only will he be looking for the stuff to buy that he knows will sell, but he’s also going to try to reconnect those lost toys with their once-owners.

“The adult mind, you think you can just replace that later,” Chris said. “But the kid mind gets stuck on those things. It sticks with you for years.”

The Barnetts had to move when Chris was young, limiting him on what he could take to the next place. He eventually spent the better part of his adult years recapturing those things he lost as a kid, but now he’s got all that and then some: a store — a sanctuary, rather — where he and his father can do that for other people.

“I’ve worked in warehouses and packing facilities, food service for my early teen and adult life,” Chris said while wearing his current uniform: a cut-off Naruto tee. “To get away from that and be able to just do what you love is pretty cool.”

And nerding out in a place like Time Warp is pretty cool.

More details

Time Warp Toys & Collectibles is located at 20 W. Main St, Fairborn.

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