Former comic is making nostalgia his business in the borough’s Velvet Mill

Former comic is making nostalgia his business in the borough’s Velvet Mill

The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — Tom Chiarella is all about having fun, keeping people entertained and making sure adults are given a chance to experience their childhood again.

Chiarella’s business, the Back in Time Traveling Toy Show, with its new headquarters at the Velvet Mill building in the borough, has allowed him to do all those things as a job, something he’s always hoped for.

Growing up in Brooklyn, Chiarella said his father hated going to work every day, but told him it wasn’t possible to find a job that was enjoyable and fun.

“He said I should work as a policeman or in sanitation, but I never liked the idea of being stuck in the 9-to-5 world,” he said. “So I did stand-up comedy for 30 years around New York City, and that was great fun.”

Since then, things have changed a bit, Chiarella said. For the last three years, he’s spent his time collecting, selling and appraising vintage toys and putting on his traveling toy show. It’s a different kind of stand-up comedy, more like stand-up entertainment, he said.

“It’s all about making sure people are having fun and enjoying stepping back in time to experience the toys and pop culture of their youth,” he said.

Chiarella, who resides in Oakdale, Conn., uses his studio space at the mill as his starting point. With a toy trailer parked outside and an area in his studio for toy repair, he’s got everything he needs to sell a vintage set of Hot Wheels to a collector or bring the entertainment right to people’s doorstep.

After manning a booth at the Velvet Mill’s vintage flea market for a month, he decided to set up shop more permanently in an effort to advertise his business and allow more people to re-experience their childhood through the magic of toys.

“I love what I do and it’s really a lot of fun,” he said. “I enjoy making people laugh and having a good time. It’s a universal way to make people smile.”

His studio is open on the weekends and by appointment during the week for those interested in looking at his toy collection, bringing in toys for appraisal or discussing the best outlets through which to sell a vintage toy.

Chiarella said his love for toys began when he and his family would play with games and toys such as Mouse Trap, GI Joe, Ker-Plunk, Electro Shot Shooting Gallery and Rock ’em Sock ’em.

“I remember playing with them and my enjoyment of them is what really got me interested in bringing vintage toys back for other adults,” he said. “There’s a kind of sentimental value people put on the toys they had growing up, and they often tell their moms not to throw them out. Those toys defined their growing-up years.”

The Velvet Mill’s South Studio 5, where Chiarella’s Back in Time headquarters is located, is a feast for the eyes. With toys hanging on the wall and stacked up all around, it looks as if a 1980s-era Santa’s workshop exploded with Chatty Cathy dolls, X-Men figurines, Tricky Tommy Turtle games, and hundreds of other toys.

When he does a show, he brings a variety of games and toys with him, depending on the audience.

“It’s a show as soon as people walk in the doors of the studio or wherever I’m putting on a toy show,” he said as he arranged some vintage toys on a shelf at his store.

“It’s part trivia game show, part interactive performance, part dance party.”

The show starts with music from classic television shows such as “The Twilight Zone” and “I Dream of Jeannie” playing as Chiarella introduces himself. The show continues with Chiarella bringing out various vintage toys, which he lets participants play with. Some are interactive toys and games such as Twister and Mousetrap, which partygoers usually want to play with right then and there, he said.

At a show he did at an assisted-living home, Chiarella remembers a 99-year-old woman playing Twister with her walker.

“She was saying ‘right wheel green, left foot blue’ and it was an absolute riot,” he laughed. “She was having so much fun, which is what it’s all about.”


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