Rappaport‘s Toy Bazaar was located on Third Avenue between 78th and 79th Streets for almost 90 years until it closed in 1981. My feeling toward Rappaports was that it was a step up from Toys ‘R Us but not as ritzy or expensive as FAO Schwarz. I remember the white wrapping paper with the red and gold polka dots always signaling that I was about to open something spectacular.
One year, a few days after Christmas the superintendent of the building where my dad worked, arrived at our apartment with loads of gifts for me from the tenants in the building. With his wife and brother-in-law in tow they came bearing gifts in several shopping bags the majority of which were wrapped in the aforementioned white, red and gold paper.
Dad was a doorman at One Gracie Square on 84th Street and East End Avenue and was obviously well-liked by his tenants, as this act of generosity proves. I forget the reason why I received so many gifts from a majority of the tenants, but at four or five years old you don’t ask. You just tear open your presents and say thank you and proceed to play. I basically had a second Christmas that year.
Mom dad and I rarely ventured “down” to Rappaports. Living on 94th Street, Woolworths on 86th Street was closer for mom or dad to take me on a Saturday so I could pick out my Hot Wheels car or my LEGO bricks for the week.
However one visit to the iconic store does stick out in my mind. It was in the fall of 1973. For whatever reason mom took me to Rappaports to get a LEGO set. I still recall the particular set; it was a Villa with the instruction booklet. It wasn’t the loose bricks where you just used your imagination and created something. No this was going to be an actual house with windows, shutters, a door, a white fence and even a tree. Also included was a direction booklet. This was a first for me, my first LEGO set.
This set is still a far cry from what my son puts together in 2016. His LEGO’s include Star Wars ships, figures and weapons, Batmobiles and Minecraft houses. His LEGO’s even come with figures!!! Imagine that…LEGO people!
As mom and I were in the store about to buy the LEGO I did what any 10-year old kid in a toy store would do, I started to wander around. Up and down the aisles I strolled just looking, knowing I was already secure with my soon to be purchased LEGO.
I got to the end of one aisle and there they hung on a hook, rack packs of the latest football cards from Topps. For those of you not in the know, rack packs are see through cellophane usually with three sections. So when you look at these packs you will immediately know six of the cards you will be getting. And who was staring at me on top of one of the three windows? None other than the greatest Jets player of all-time, Joe Namath himself.
I immediately pick up the pack with Joe Namath on top and asked mom if I could get this as well. She gave me a look that seemed to say, “Isn’t the LEGO enough for today?”
Then something happened that I will never forget. One of the salespeople in the store who was close by and saw what I was holding in my hand said to me, “I know why you want that one.”
In all honesty, I forgot my exact reply but it was something along the lines of, “You got that right.”
Mom saw that the pack was only something like 39 or 49 cents and she gave me the OK. So we go to the register and pay for the LEGO and my Joe Namath card. It really didn’t matter who the other cards were, I got a Joe Namath card!!!
I don’t know if the LEGO set we purchased that day was given away, lost or is still in a box in my attic. I know the instructions are probably long gone, because I mastered the art of taking that set apart and building it without the aid of the instructions. In case I still have it and I do find it someday, I have found the instructions online.
As for the Namath card THAT I do still have. I was at the game when he wanted to kiss Suzy Kolber. I have met him on several occasions, interviewed him and hung out with him and chatted at an ESPN event. He’s a terrific guy and I am glad he straightened himself out after the Kolber incident.
Had I kept that card intact in the rack pack unopened, it might be worth a couple of hundred dollars today. But I did what any kid would do with a pack of sports cards, I opened them. The card is far from mint condition, but it is one that I treasure just because of the great memory it brings me every time I see it.
As for Rappaport’s, that is something neither I, nor anyone from my old neighborhood will ever get back. However, it is forever etched in my mind.