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Rare Vintage Toy Paradise Hidden Behind Logan Square Bodega

By Paul Biasco | September 12, 2016 6:23am
 84 Chicago, a vintage toy store that is hidden behind a Logan Square bodega, is a dream project from the owner of Cafe Tola.
84 Chicago
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LOGAN SQUARE — Tucked behind a hidden door that doubles as shelves in a Logan Square bodega are toys worth as much as $5,000.

Gerardo Salamanca's dream has been three years in the making behind that door.

A speakeasy toy store with some of the rarest vintage toys in the world more closely resembles a gallery of the greatest hits from a 1980s Toys R Us than a retail shop.

"We have the what's what of Holy Grails of toys," Salamanca said.

Salamanca's new Logan Square shop, 84 Chicago, is unlike anything in the city, or possibly the world.

The front of the business is a literal front.

From the outside, all customers will see a traditional Chicago corner store packed with candy, pop, some everyday necessities, such as mouthwash, and some magazines.

The real show is behind a shelved wall of cereal, hot sauces and snacks that rotates 90 degrees to reveal Salamanca's secret clubhouse at 2507 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The toys that line the shelves are all from a growing collection that he started building as a kid growing up in Bucktown, "before it was Bucktown."

Salamanca, who owns and operates Cafe Tola with his wife, has been dreaming up this side project for years.

Eighty percent of the toys on the shelves are from 1990 or earlier, and all but one shelf of keepsakes is for sale.

"This has been a family effort to put this together," said Salamanca, 40, thanking his wife for trusting him with the pursuit of his vision and his two college-age kids for their help, too.

The most expensive toy in the shop is a Transformers action figure that Salamanca said is worth $5,000.

84 Chicago is set to open in November.

The toy store portion is open by appointment only and only on the weekends, but the front shop will be open seven days a week late into the night.

While the focus of the new venture is clearly on the toy store in the back, the front of the shop will function as a working bodega that caters to the neighborhood and patrons of late-night bars such as the nearby Owl.

"We are a throwback to the '80s," Salamanca said. "Growing up in Chicago, the neighborhood corner store was almost on every corner. I wanted to give all the cats from my generation a reminder of what it was like growing up in Chicago again."

This corner store will be a bit different, in that it also will offer empanadas and cold brew coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

While Salamanca decided not to sell cigarettes in front to keep the shop kid-friendly, it does carry mouthwash, gum and condoms.

"Anything anyone from the Owl will need," he said.

Appointments to visit the toy shop can be made by calling Salamanca's cellphone at 773-759-1807.



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