At New Milford's Nordica Toys, a bounce back from COVID to celebrate 40 years of fun

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

NEW MILFORD — When coronavirus hit the state, Nordica Toys was barely making enough money to pay rent. But now the store has bounced back to pre-pandemic business levels just in time to celebrate its 40th year in the community.

“Because of COVID, there are many new customers from Westchester and New York City — families with kids — who moved into the area and bought houses,” said owner Marie McCarthy.

The town landmark at 7 Main St. will celebrate its 40th anniversary June 5, from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. At the event, local author Billy Steers will read from his “Tractor Mac” book series and author Christine Vrba will read her book, “Good Night Connecticut.” Additional entertainment includes cupcakes, a bouncy ball, a talk by local artist Lorraine Ryan and a raffle. The rain date is June 12.

Over the years, Nordica Toys has sold thousands of products to entertain children and adults alike, including arts and crafts, stuffed animals, wooden puzzles, dolls, hand puppets, Legos, wooden blocks and books.

The store also sells traditional family board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, chess, checkers, backgammon, Parcheesi, Sorry and Connect Four.

The business was originally at 25 Bank St., where Joe’s Salon & Spa is located, and was owned by the late Christian and Aviva Trost.

When Joe’s expanded in 2001, Nordica moved to its current location on Main Street.

In 2003, after a mutual friend introduced McCarthy to the Trosts, McCarthy began working as a bookkeeper at Nordica. After a few weeks, the owners asked McCarthy if she would be interested in buying the store, she said.

“It took me about a day to think about it,” said McCarthy, who worked in retail at the time. “I was tired of my job where I was and thought this would be a chance to be my own boss.”

And she has never looked back. While business was initially great for about 10 years, Nordica had been on a downturn, she said.

“People were leaving Connecticut in droves. They couldn’t get out of here fast enough,” McCarthy said. “The grandparents were all leaving to Florida and they were the ones spending the money in the store.”

And then COVID hit.

For eight weeks, the store was closed. Despite curbside service became available, Nordica suffered an 80 percent loss in revenue.

“I made enough to pay the rent — that was it,” McCarthy said.

However, these days, the store is fully back to its pre-pandemic business, “and then some,” she added.

A bestseller since COVID, according to McCarthy, has been pushems — a fidget toy.

“These help with stress,” she said.

There are also fidget spinners, which are used the same way as the pushems, and by all ages.

“You’re standing at your desk on a conference call on Zoom and you spin it,” McCarthy said. “Last year, I would order 50 of them every week. Children were stressed from COVID and those toys were a very big seller.”

Nordica Toys has made many generations of kids happy, according to McCarthy, who said she enjoys helping customers find just the right toy for their needs.

Washington resident Amanda Seitz remembers shopping at the Bank Street location of the store as a child.

“It was magical. When you walked in the front door, there were two big Playmobil displays on either side of the walkway,” Seitz said. “I must have collected 50-plus sets of Playmobils in the late ’80s early ’90s.”

New Milford resident Susan Lamb said she has shopped at Nordica since her children, now in their 30s, were young.

“One of the memories I have was the huge Beanie Babies craze in the mid-90s,” Lamb said. “We would go down to the end of the street and wait in line for them.”

Lamb now shops at Nordica for her grandchildren, who are ages 5, 3, and 1.

“It’s just something we love to do,” Lamb said.