Off the Wagon offers people a chance to not act their age


Nick Steger, 6, of Rootstown, examines a toy closely while exploring Off the Wagon toy shop Tuesday, Sept. 17. Photo by Brianna Neal.

Alicia Balog

A dark-haired man in a green windbreaker wraps his hands around his eyes, trying to get a glimpse of the toys beyond the glass. He walks with a redheaded woman toward the green door and opens it, entering a world of childhood.

Men and women, young and old, wander into Off the Wagon, Kent’s quirky toy store.

The wonder of shiny, new toys, the feel of plastic and rubber, the delicious smell of chocolate — all act as reminders of a time of no worries and all fun.

A Pittsburgh grandmother in a cream-colored coat matching her fading blonde hair enters the store as she waits for her ride. She is drawn to the black cubbies holding Squishables, large, round stuffed animals. She squeezes the puffy penguin.

“I love these stuffed animals … And usually stuffed animals at my age, I’m like — you know.” She shrugs as she touches another. “But I think they’re really cute.”

Another grandmother with round, black-rimmed glasses and white curls walks in with her teenage granddaughter and two friends. The girls see a pink rubber pig mask on a shelf. Smiling, the granddaughter puts it on over her long, brown hair.

“I’ll take a picture,” the grandmother says as she pulls out her phone.

“People love the masks,” a store employee said from behind the counter. “They always take pictures.”

As families of all ages trickle in from outside, a mother, father, daughter and son enter the store.

The boy, wearing a blue coat and dark blue hat, stares. He spins around, walks to a shelf and picks up a giant pair of scissors.

“You have to get gigantic paper to go with that,” his father says, walking behind him. The man pats his son on the shoulder and smiles.

Another son, younger than 10, and his father head toward the other side of the store, where walls are lined with board games, puzzles and toys for babies and toddlers. This half looks like a traditional toy store.

But it still offers fun, games and wonder.

“Will you build this puzzle with me?” the boy asks his dad, grabbing the skyscraper. His dad smiles. The boy, a tiny copy of his dad with thick-rimmed glasses, brown, wavy hair and the same happy grin, pays no attention.

“Ooh, how about this one?” the boy decides, picking up the Eiffel Tower puzzle instead.

Later that afternoon, a blonde graduate student looks over the board games on the far wall.

She and her boyfriend write a list of games to play together.

“Okay, so next time we have money, we are going to buy ‘Dominion’ because we play it online but we want a physical version. And then next time we’ll come in and get a ‘Go’ set.”

She shops around the store once a month because every game she buys gives her something fun to do rather than drinking and talking about work.

“I think that adults forgot that games are not just for kids.”

A man old enough to be her grandfather plays a game with his friend as he browses the shelves. He snatches up a pickle puppet.

“Now I win with the pickle fingers.”

“But not against a thumb sucker,” the other older man gloats, showing off his new candy thumb.

Candy thumbs are just one of the many body-part-shaped candies and toys scattered throughout the store.

A college-age girl reads the tag of a plush pancreas, “‘Give me some sugar,’” and giggles.

“‘Get a womb,’” another girl reads off the uterus.

The two girls laugh as they grab plush microbes: diseases, bacteria, cells and organs.

An employee gets up from behind the counter, walks over, grabs a microbe of her own and smiles.

“I like to yell ‘Catch!’ and throw this at someone. When they catch it, I tell them, ‘You just caught chlamydia,’” she says.

Avoiding the germs, a college-age man grabs a toy cosmic laser, pulling the trigger hesitantly, and filling the air with a buzzing noise. He glances around quickly, checking whether anyone saw him do that. A boyish grin spreads across his face.

Eventually though, the clock runs out on childhood.

“Five more minutes,” the mother tells the boy in the blue coat.

His smile fades slightly as he realizes he didn’t buy a single toy.

His mother comes up behind him, grabbing his hand reassuringly.

“Don’t worry; we’ll come again.”

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].