Arts and Culture

Time Travel at South Broadway's Fifty Two '80s Store, Where Nostalgia Runs Deep

Set foot in Fifty Two ‘80s, winner of 2015’s Best Of Denver award for Best Place To Reclaim Your ‘80s Nostalgia, you may experience an explosive wave of memories akin to the force of Marty McFly and his DeLorean shooting through decades of time. This small South Broadway shop is filled, top to bottom, with an overwhelming array of toys and other objects that so many of us clutched tightly to in our youth. The first thing that hits you is the smell of that plastic, the kind that your mom made you wash off your hands before dinner after a lengthy hour of playing with action figures; He-Man, Ninja Turtles, Hulk Hogan, Han Solo – they all wore the same cologne. The second thing that hits you is all of that color. The ‘80s didn’t know a shade on the spectrum, natural or unnatural, that it didn’t like,

Then there's the music, wafting in from a modern Spotify station, the only way to guarantee that every song remains in one decade and that a stray Bieber or Beyonce song doesn’t sneak into your daydream because you don’t want to wake up from this walk through a time where everything was so innocent and being an adult was the dark cloud looming on the horizon. Sweet dreams are made of these, indeed.

“The funny thing is that Tony and I will come into the shop every day to open it and we just can’t help but hum that song from Willy Wonka, 'Pure Imagination',” says Dede Thompson, who co-owns this time warp with her boyfriend (the aforementioned Tony Vecchio) “That pretty much sums up our feelings about living in this magical world.”

Vecchio and Thompson started last year with a random desire to open up a shop that catered to their love — and that of other folks their age — of pop culture in the 1980s and thereabouts. “I was in the mortgage business, and Tony is a chef, and we opened this place as a supplemental thing on the side but now it’s this awesome thing," says Thompson. The duo dreamed it up last June and, after some intense and manic eBay shopping, they were ready to open in October. “We’d get dozens of boxes a day and it was like a pure Christmas Day overload every time.”
If the explosion of popular culture produced a toy, chances are it’s in the store. But this is no hoarder’s palace: items are painstakingly grouped together with their kin – Bert is with Ernie and She-Ra is helping fight Skeletor – or at least their era’s friends – the Six Million Dollar Man is a stone’s throw from Charlie’s Angels. “If I had to narrow it down,” says Thompson “I’m partial to the My Little Ponies, Strawberry Shortcakes and Care Bears” pointing to separate shelves where the squeezable pals are on display.

Don’t call them “dolls”, they’re “action figures," but if they weren't your jam, don’t worry, the store is stocked with dozens of other items of the era including books based on your favorite movies and shows, electronica of the times — like Atari, Nintendo, Gameboys and more – have their place, and one of the largest, densest tables houses classic Broncos memorabilia that reflects on classic players, logos and uniform incarnations that your children surely will not recognize. In the back are crates of '80s vinyl and some clothing items that have been rescued from thrift stores so you don’t have to dig so hard yourself.
This store literally has everything, except maybe two items on your memory list. “We can’t find a Stretch Armstrong that is affordable or in good shape and Shogun Warrior Godzilla, every one we find is missing one or more of his battle fists that would fly off to hit other monsters.” Says Thompson, but if you’re clutching onto these items yourself waiting for the right moment, Vecchio and Thompson do buy things from their wide-eyed customers too, so that everyone can have a chance to share in the nostalgia.

“That’s probably my favorite thing about the shop is seeing people walk around with smiles on their faces and telling us stories about when they had the toys that they’re getting ready to reclaim,” says Thompson “and that makes all of this so worthwhile.”

Here are twelve special finds that you should hurry up and go buy for yourself before they’re gone, and sorry, but this writer snatched up that classic Dolly Parton doll with her original packaging. The best part? Her bust barely fits in the box it came in.

12) Things that bleep, boop and beep.
Speak & Spell, Atari, ColecoVision, Gameboys, clear radios and phones. If you provide the AA batteries, then this place has the toy for you to charge up an afternoon of fun.

11) Mickey D's had the best fries AND the best toys.
In the golden days, Ronald McDonald had a bunch of friends; Grimace, the Hamburgler, Mayor McCheese — and a whole series of collectible glasses, plates and even die-cast cars and the bestest plastic toys with a scent that got you high while you liked fry salt off your fingers. 

10) Good Morning, Angels.
Technically from the '70s, Kelly, Jill, and Sabrina were the original fashion plates of popular culture and even had awkwardly shaped action figure bodies to highlight the dawn of the plastic play thing. Need more Angels in your life? The store also has a bizarre Farrah Fawcett glamour head to practice makeup on and a rare Angels pendant necklace your mom probably wouldn't let you buy years ago.

9) American Girl Dolls Have Nuthin' On The Hot Looks Girls.
Hot Looks were the large dolls that rocked '80s fashion and came with the latest and greatest layered looks you could totally pull off if you tried. Like the United Colors of Benetton, these girls were from all over the world and put the 'vest' in 'diVErSiTy'.

8) More Action Figures Than You Can Shake A Sword At.
These two shelves are but a sampling of the action figure fun that runs rampant through the store. Five minutes and you'll find yourself "pew pew"-ing an invisible gun at a Thundercat or wondering why the Real Ghostbusters toys never were a big hit.

7) Bronies beware, you might not like these horsies.
The original My Little Pony toys didn't come with fun and sassy personalities, Bro. They came with lotsa hair and a little comb to run through it. Some of them smelled sweet too. Just let your sister have these, okay?

6) Truly, TRULY outrageous.
Back in the day bi-curious boys didn't play with ponies, they rocked out with Lady Gaga's precursor, Jem And The Holograms! By day Jem was Jerrica Benton, mild-mannered orphanage manager, but one touch of her holographic earring and it was "Showtime, Synergy!" Jem's rocking band of friends is all here but the store could use some Misfits to balance out the ol' good and evil. 

5) In A Galaxy Far, Far Away.
You probably already have EVERY Stars Wars toy that ever existed but feel free to see if anything here completes your collection or, better yet, bring a list just in case (nerd).

4) When Mile High was a stadium, and an attitude, too.
Ahh, the good old days when the "Orange Crush" wasn't just a soda, John Elway had gigantic buck teeth and the Broncos logo wasn't designed into some weirdo ghost horse. He was just a fine, snorting, breathing stallion. 

3) Word of warning, do NOT eat the gum.
Soooooo many trading card packs, so little time. Ninja Turtles, Roger Rabbit, Three's Company (!), and a bazillion more. Now's your chance to complete that Garbage Pail Kids collection your father thought he finally threw out for your own good.

2) When Hulk was followed by the word "Amania".
No better Friday night was spent drinking Pepsi, eating Domino's Pizza and throwing your WWF toys at each other. Eventually toy wrestling led you to actual wrasslin' with your brother and no one won because you'd both end up puking pepperoni from all the roughhousing.

1) Aaaaaddrriiiiiiaaannn!
C'mon. If locating a nearly complete set of Rocky Balboa (& Friends) action figures isn't your first priority than please don't invite me over to your house. Your priorities are messed up.

And for good measure, here's even more of what's in store at Fifty Two '80s:

Fifty Two '80s is located at 1874 South Broadway. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m., Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday. For more information, call 720-629-0495.

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Keith Garcia is a filmmaker, writer and secret agent looking for love and the perfect slice of pizza. If he looks familiar, it's probably because he introduced a film you watched in Denver sometime between 1996 and 2014.
Contact: Keith Garcia