Photos by Brian Addison.
Stepping into Richie’s Toys & Gifts on Broadway, there's an immediate rush of nostalgia: from fart bombs to Barbies, Transformers to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, husbands and owners Richard Leighton and Miguel Gomez Leighton have a knack for picking physical toys in the age of video games and digital play.
Come August 25, the toy store will be celebrating its first anniversary as being a family-friendly joint in the heart of the Gayborhood.
“The neighborhood’s families have responded so enthusiastically,” Richard said. “They are able to come in and get their children toys that make them use their imagination rather just depending on a smartphone… We looked around and noticed the neighborhood didn’t look too kid-friendly but that’s what we’ve done since: brightened up Broadway.”
The husband team was no stranger to the toy business—Miguel had worked at a toy store on Balboa Island in Newport Beach for years—but felt there was one missing in their home of Long Beach. With Pixie Toys all the way in Bixby Knolls and Knock Knock in Seal Beach, the coastline and heart of Long Beach was sadly devoid of toys (and magic after the loss of Presto’s Magic Shop). Adding what Richard affectionately called “zing” to the Broadway corridor, ponies and Smashball sets soon flooded the corner.
The power of the toy store’s presence goes beyond the philosophical concepts of what childhood play is and could be in the shadow of the iPad. The shop has slowly driven foot traffic to the corner known mostly for its boisterous gay watering hole, The Falcon—and with the crowd comes a heightened sense of community and safety.
“There are less homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk,” Richard said, “and more happy faces looking to get a costume.”
The duo hopes to expand their costume selection to be year-round rather than just Halloween-based so that local families don’t have to drive to the East Side or even out of town for Halloween superstores. And, of course, expand with more books, more puzzles, more stuffed animals—just more of everything, really.
Beyond merchandise, their definition of expansion is also communal. Their living wall—the store’s façade is a growing collage of greens—was a first along Broadway and brightened what was otherwise a boring corner before Pets First and The Eclectic Attic helped lift the intersection out of drabness. Even more important to their expansion is actually bringing family fun to the area: the pair will be bringing the Our Town Trolley to Long Beach on August 23, filled with moms, dads, and their children, all eager to explore Richie’s Toys and Gifts. Also in attendance will be Cinderella and Petals the Clown, the latter of whom the husbands discovered at IKEA, promptly falling in love with the clown’s style of performance.
“She’s brilliant, really,” Richard said. “And even better is the smiles she brings to parents and kids alike. She’s a true talent.”
They haven’t solidified the plans for August 25—the day marks the store’s official one-year anniversary of being in business—but Richard guarantees the party will be big. Miguel, however, is looking forward to the bigger party they will have in October, when the couple celebrate another first: their first wedding anniversary.
“That’s going to be a real party,” Miguel said. “I can’t wait.”
The two met in 2000 at none other than one of Long Beach’s oldest queer establishment, Ripples, when Richard lived in Huntington Beach and Miguel was visiting. After 13 years together—and witnessing of the rise of marriage equality—the pair was finally able to call each other husband and husband after last year’s historical ruling against Prop 8 and DOMA.
“It wasn’t always easy,” Richard said, “no relationship—or business for that matter—is. But we’re here and hopefully the way we made each other smile will be the way that these toys will make others smile.”
Richie’s Toys and Gifts is located at 1424 E Broadway.