Monday, December 11, 2006

Howard Griffin Land O Toys


As a kid who loved Christmas, I always wanted to go to Howard Griffin Land O Toys in Monroe, Louisiana.

In the 60's and 70's there was a chain of discount stores, like the original, non-grocery Wal-Marts, called Howard Brother's. The Howard of Howard Griffin was an owner of Howard Brother's. This chain had stores in Northeast Louisiana, and I'm not sure where else.

Now Howard Griffin was a boat dealership, and they had their main showroom for said boats on South Grand in Monroe.

Sometime each fall, they would clear the boats out of the main showroom building and fill it wall to wall with toys. So Howard Griffin Land O Toys was a seasonal toy store in Monroe every year, roughly from the end of October or first of November through the end of December.

This was years before we had ever even heard of Toys-R-Us. And as a kid in Vidalia, a two-hour car ride away from Monroe, Howard Griffin Land O Toys might as well have been on the moon.

The frazzlin' TV station we were able to receive from Monroe, KNOE showed tantalizing glimpses of Howard Griffing Land O Toys on commercials. It looked glorious, even on our black and white TV. (I have a vivid imagination, and could add color in my head.)

Just like most people can remember the words and the jingle tune for Oscar Mayer bologna, I can remember the tune and words to the Howard Griffin Land O Toys commercials.

Howard Griffin Land O Toys
Loads of fun for girls and boys
Bring the kids and look around
The biggest toy deal in the town.

At least, that's the words I remember. I've never seen them written, so there might be a little mistake or two in there. I was never sure if it was "biggest toy deal in the town," or "biggest toy dealER in the town." Dealer makes more sense, but I never could hear the singers saying the -er part, so I'm still not so sure which is correct.

In 1975 however, we moved to Monroe, Louisiana, and almost every year until they stopped having Howard Griffin Land O Toys, we would go.

You have to understand, that this was a humongus deal to me as a kid. Even if my first trip there found me too old (13) for most of the toys they stocked, I couldn't get enough. My parents hated taking us down there because parking was a nightmare. It was normally a sedate boat showroom and their parking places were adequate for that, but every Christmas season it was chaos when the place was transformed into a toy store. The parking immediately became woefully inadequate.

But hey, I was a kid who couldn't drive yet, so what did I care about parking? Nada.

Even after I was older and driving, I would take Younger Brother, who is seven years younger than me, down there for "him" to look at stuff. Yeah. Right. Him. In truth, he was my excuse to go there myself.

Starting on the day after Christmas, everything in Howard Griffin Land O Toys was half off. Half Off!! We would go down there and brave the crowd, looking for the diamonds among the dregs that were left.

I usually bought new H-O scale electric race cars and things like that, and I remember Younger Brother getting a Star Wars Jawa Sandcrawler in 1978 or so.

These days, we've lived many places with Toys-R-Us, and there's a well stocked Wal-Mart on almost every corner, so we've become jaded.

It's an easy thing to find even old, hard to find toys on ebay, if you have the money.

I have to say though, that back when a toy store was a rare and awesome thing to visit, the memories of them have become mystical and way overblown.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Christmas might seem crass and commercial compared to back then, but I still miss the wonder of the rare toy store sighting and/or visit.

It's nothing for many of today's stores to have toys you can see up close and even put your hands on, but back then? Nuh uh.

Kids today don't know how good they have it, but then again, they are totally robbed of the kind of anticipation we had back in the olden days. (My olden days being the 60's and 70's)

I'd love to get into the Way Back Machine and go visit Howard Griffin Land O Toys, circa 1975. I would take Younger Brother along, and hey, since we're back in time, we could stop and pick up Big Brother and head on down to South Grand Street and check out the toys.


If anyone from Monroe happens to read this, and knows more about Howard Griffin, please leave a comment.

I remember Jack Howard was a Mayor of Monroe, and also a business owner. But that's about the extent of my memory on that.


Sunday, March 28, 2011
Sad Update: The News Star paper's web site reports at 10:34pm central time, that the old Howard Griffin building is on fire.
Zack Southwell reports: Black and gray smoke continue to billow out of the Howard Griffin building in the 700 Block of South Grand Street in Monroe.

The entire structure seems to be in flames ... gradually it’s falling to pieces. The windows and walls are golden in flames and as Monroe firefighters battled to bring it under control.

The fire was reported about 9:48 p.m. Sunday.

A reporter at the scene described the fire as “raging. “It’s fierce .... the heat.”
Hat tip to commenter Melinda.

41 comments:

Skittles said...

This post was beautifully written, as most of your posts are, but this one transported back in time to that wonderful place of childhood innocence. If you find that machine, can I go, too??

JAM said...

No problem, Skittles. As long as there's room in the wayback machine, we'll take as many as we can fit.

Bit O Trivia for you: Mr. Peabody and Sherman's wayback machine was actually the WABAC machine. It was a take-off on the early computers making the news in the 50's and 60's, UNIVAC and so forth.

You'll have to pardon me, I was a big fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Lovely wife said...

I still remember the tune they used for the store..good times, good times.

Marsha (Big Sis) said...

I bought Andrew's first baby toys at Howard Griffin before he was even born! John, remember the car that you and Daddy put together for Andrew? It came from there! I miss that store. There is nothing in the building now!

Sindi1968 said...

Wow what a good write. I too am from Monroe. Howard Griffin was the place to see Santa. Do you remember the monkey in the air that did the flip? oh any the train... Oh to be young again..
Merry Christmas

Sindi

spcray said...

I loved reading your post! I remember HG's Land O' Toys. My grandmother would take us there after Christmas to buy our...Christmas gifts. It was there that I found many of my favorite Star Wars toys. Better yet...remember the Twin City Mall??

The train set at Christmas...the primitive video game arcade. The Tonga.

Bob767FL said...

I believe I can give you some insight on Howard Griffin Land O Toys. My father, Robert Newcomer, Sr. was the store manager for many years during the 50's and 60's. I have many fond memories of the "behind the scenes" activities at HGLOT. Each summer, my dad would go to the national toy shows in Chicago and Dallas and select the newest toys for that year that everyone would buy, particularly for Christmas. My brother and I would get valuable early knowledge of what the hot toys would be for that year. I especially remember all the Wham-O line of toys, such as the Hula Hoop and the Wing Ding. My dad worked locally with Garland Shell who owned a Monroe advertising agency to make all the newspaper ads and TV commercials for the store. In fact, one Christmas commerical in the late 50's found my younger brother and me riding a small locomotive in the spot.

As you indicated, it was something of a herculean effort to move all the boats and motors from the main showroom and magically transform it into the "greatest toy store in the town". All the decorations, sets, Santa's chair and the large train board were stored in a warehouse overlooking the Ouachita River. The warehouse was also used for storage of all the lay-aways that people made. Back then, folks would buy their Christmas toys early in the fall, put them on lay-away, and make payments until they picked them up by Christmas Eve. In 1972 during my senior year at NLU, I worked part time there during the Christmas holidays. I would take an family's order and find the toys in the stock warehouse and put all the toys into spare cardboard boxes and tape them up and mark them with their name and store them until they came to pick them up. The few days before Christmas may have been the hardest I ever had to work in my life.

Mostly I remember HGLOT as being the most magical experience that a kid could have in Monroe during that time. Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories...Bob Newcomer

Anonymous said...

I am a grown man and I have to admit that when I read through some of the postings regarding "Howard Griffin Land O Toys" I teared up. Being from the Monroe/West Monroe area and growing up there, that was one of the most special and magical places that Monroe ever had and we each probably took it for granted. I so wish I could just go back to the holiday rush there, if but just for a moment.

Me, my wife and children now live in Nashville, TN - and each time we're back visiting Monroe, I always look down from I-20 and see the building and think youthful thoughts. I miss the flipping monkey and the spirit that the entire place would have.

I think you'll each agree that we could take the best part of each national toy store chain and even when combining them, it would not equal what we once had.

I wish my kids could experience it with me...

Thanks to each of you for taking time to post your memories, it has allowed me to reach back and grab hold of some great times.

God bless!
Damon Bagwell

Anonymous said...

I loved your post. The anticipation of going to Land o Toys was almost unbearable. I grew up in Rayville, and it was an annual ritual for us to go there, too. The "real" Santa was there, also. We knew that there was a Santa at Sears, but he was not the "real" one. I remember the train set that ran all around the back of the store. The place was simply magical. I wish that someone could get a copy of the recording of the music from the commercial. Many years ago I lived in Oklahoma City. A jewelry store there used the same melody and the same singers for their commercial, with different words. I wonder if someone at KNOE could come up with the audio for this. I would love to hear it again.

Anonymous said...

Howard Griffin Land of Toys was owned by Howard and Birdie Griffin. They were in no way related to Jack Howard who was the mayor of Monroe, and part owner of Howard Brothers owned by Jack and Alton Howard.
One thing for certain is the memories and the excitement of going to Howard Griffin Land of Toys is the same for me having took my two sons and seeing their eyes light up with excitement. Precious memories they are.

JAM said...

Thanks for the correction, Anonymous #3! I always though it was Jack Howard.

I stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

JACK AND ALTON HOWARD WERE THE OWNERS OF HOWARD BROTHERS. I REMEMBER SHOPPING THERE ALOT BEFORE KMART AND WAL MART CAME TO TOWN. I ALSO REMEMBER GOING TO HOWARD GRIFFINS AND LOOKING AT THE MOTORCYCLES, BICYCLES, BOATS, AND TOYS WHEN I WAS A KID.

Janin said...

i think the start of the second verse was
toy trains, airplanes, dolls that cry.

can you imagine how many people would by that song for a few bucks on i-tunes?
thanks for the post. i have a pic of the store circa 2000 on my flickr (http://flickr.com/photos/janin_dynese/sets/721576). i will have to post the one i took through the windows of the inside. there was a multicolored peg board still up with a paper sign above it that said "cabbage patch kids".
Thanks everyone for reminding me of the flipping monkey.

Herb said...

Boy what memories I have of Howard Griffin Land O, Toys. My mom bought just about every toy I got for Christmas in the mid 50's from Howard Griffin's Land O' Toys and I purchased my daughter's Christmas gifts there in the late 70's and early 80's. I bought her a Roleigh Bicycle there in 1984 and a few Cabbage Patch Dolls. Thanks for the memories.

randy said...

Randy Butte mt

I had the pleasure of working for Mr and Mrs Griffin in the service Dept across the street.My best memory is of the Pet coon Tripod kept in the cage in the back warehouse.I am very proud to say I was a employe of Howard Griffins

Herb said...

Randy Butte MT"...My best memory is of the Pet coon Tripod kept in the cage in the back warehouse..."

I am a police officer in Monroe and I remember late one night working an animal bite at St. Francis Hospital. Two young men went to the back of Howard Griffins and tried to get that coon out o his cage and he bit one of them on his upper lip. The bite took several stiches to close.

Anonymous said...

almost brings tears to my eyes reading about this. it brings back so many memories of my dad and mom taking me and brother to that store every christmas. we didn't have the world, and my dad worked so hard for what we did have. just thinking about the him wanting to drive and hour so we could go there, it's a beautiful memory.

Herb said...

I remember goinmg to Howard Griffin in the 50's. The store was owned by Howard and Birdie Griffin, both of whom are deceased. Jim Planke bought the store from them and ran it several years before he went under. I don't know if Mayor Jack Howard had anything to do with the ownership of the store.

Angela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angela said...

this is fantastic reading! put me down for a window seat on that time machine. oh to go once more and take my kids who are from the got it good toys r us generation. to see those bicycles hanging from the ceiling was just...wowww! I too would love to hear that jingle again. I drive past h.g. at least once a week and still strain to get a glimpse into that window of time passed.

James Pickering said...

Lived in Bastrop, and must say that I only have a fading memory of the place even though I'm sure we went many times. I do have a better memory of the commercial, though, and it just makes me remember the Christmases past so much more. Thanks for the wonderful post.

Brady Girl said...

The second verse to the song was:

Land of Toys is the place to buy,
Toy trains, bikes, and dolls that cry,
Bring the kids and look around,
The biggest toy deal in the town.

Sue said...

I am from Monroe, and my 6 brothers and sisters and I looked forward to going to Howard Griffin's all year long! It was magical and as you say, with all the opportunities today for toy shopping, it is hard for kids today to understand. Thanks for the memories! I was getting ready to write a blog posting of my own on my Monroe childhood and was glad to find your page!

Melinda said...

It is Sunday night, March 27th, 2011. We used to go to Howard Griffin Land O Toys. I now live in Ormond Beach,FL. I have just learned, through facebook, that the Howard Griffin building is on fire as I write this. A lot of memories...
Melinda

Rex Moncrief said...

Just found this thread too. So sad about the Land of Toys. I have many fond memories of that place!

(If anyone subscribes to this any longer) - To the poster who asked about the Twin City Mall and the Tonga - my grandfather (NL Moncrief) owned the Tonga. My grandparents, Charles and Nita Whitten, ran it for several years in the mid 70's. Plenty of memories there - running around the mall after hours, Murphy's Mart, the train.

Stephanie said...

Thank you for your blog. I enjoyed reading. I am from West Monroe, and I was born in 1970 and grew up going to Howard Griffin. There has never been anything like it anywhere! My husband also remembers the store, and we were chatting about it last week. Then this morning I heard the news about the fire. Very sad. Thank you for sharing your story.

Albert's Place Blog said...

Some asshat, according to the Monroe fire chief on the local news, burned the building to the ground! That building brought back fond memories every time I drove past it.

Melissa said...

Can you find a clip or video of the Christmas commercials they would run?

Scott Strang said...

From what I heard some derelict set the place on fire.

I remember looking at the train and race car sets they had there. Almost the entire back wall of the store had shelves with Tonka, Ertl, Nylint and Buddy L type metal toys on them. I used to have to get my dad to reach for it to pull it down for me to look at it. As I got older I remember seeing merchandise that often had very thick coats of dust on it so I figured some stock probably was cycled season after season. That would only made sense.

So sad to see it gone.

Scott Strang said...

I seem to remember that Howard Griffin Sound Center started in that same building before moving to over to Louisville ave next to Burger Chef and Flair's.


Does anyone remember the Howard Brothers Garden center that turned into a toy store every year? It had the Howard Brothers hardware store next to it. I think later it was turned into a John Deere dealership.

Rick said...

Excellent post! I was explaining Howard Griffin to some people today and it prompted me to find out how accurate my memory was :) I lived in Monroe as a kid and remember my trip to the store. Here's how I remember the jingle:

Howard Griffin, land of toys
The place to shop for girls and boys.
Bring your kids to look around.
The biggest toy store in the town!

william knighten said...

My Father bought me my first bachman train set and table top pac man from there :) i do miss that place every christmas i would go by and see the train set in there it waas awesome

ashleyltodd said...

I grew up in Monroe during that time, and I remember the excitement of going to Howard Griffin Land of Toys every year. I loved driving by it at night, too, seeing the huge window display. I seem to recall a giant stuffed giraffe (my favorite animal) and a monkey that flipped... I loved watching the big model train display, too. I would stand there mesmerized, watching it for as long as my parents would let me. I was saddened when I heard it had burned down, and it left me feeling very nostalgic. What memories! Thanks for sharing yours!

ashleyltodd said...

Oh, and I recall the words to the jingle exactly as you wrote them above. Someone in the comments posted a second verse, and I seem to remember that a little as well.

Cozmo35 said...

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Cary Croft said...

I was born in 1971 and I could never figure out how I could go with my dad to look at boats in June and then 6 long months later it would be this magical Christmas Wonderland? KNOE has to have the jingle and old TV commercials stashed away.

Cary Croft said...

I was born in 1971 and I could never figure out how I could go with my dad to look at boats in June and then 6 long months later it would be this magical Christmas Wonderland? KNOE has to have the jingle and old TV commercials stashed away.

g2taylor said...

WOW! Thanks for sharing. i remember going when I was a child and lived in West Monroe. I also remember going to one of those AFTER Christmas sales and getting a Thumbelina doll, a troll doll another year, a gumbo and a pokey, and one year, my brother and I got glow in the dark models of Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster. I loved visiting Santa Claus, the trains, the mechanical window display. GREAT MEMORIES!

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Southern Belle said...

I lived in Arkansas, but we got the Channel 8 TV station. As I was growing up, the Howard Griffin Land of Toys commercial was a regular Christmas song to me. I wish it was on youtube. Not ever hearing it again is like being told that Jingle Bells and Silent Night and other favorite Christmas carols could never be heard again.

Unknown said...

Theses stories are amazing and bring back a flood of chidhood memories for me ! I have been looking continously for the TV Commercial ,but have no luck.If any one happens to know where one is I'd like to buy a copy of it . My email is MAM196571@YAHOO.COM Thankyou for any information you have .