His grandfather owned a toy store in his native Venezuela, so it was only natural that Escalante chose to follow in those footsteps after moving to Brooklyn. Five years ago, he opened his first shop at 1124 Bedford Avenue in Bed-Stuy. Things weren’t easy at first.
“The first two-and-a-half years that we were in business, it was not a very good experience,” Escalante said, noting that most of the people who came into the store were shoplifters. “It happened on a regular basis.”
Escalante also had to navigate the often murky waters and unique challenges that come with being an immigrant business owner, especially when it comes to financing.
“There are some private institutions, I wouldn’t say they help you,” he said, warning business owners against loan sharks. “You can go to them and get a loan, but I would not recommend it.
“They will get you to bankruptcy,” he added. “There’s no way you can pay all those interest rates. Too high.”
Despite all the potential landmines, Escalante was able to grow the business, opening a second location last year at 469 Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill. He had help from a new business partner, Jon Vazquez, a Bed-Stuy native with six years experience working in the toy store industry.
Vazquez’s role is to make sure the shopping experience is unrivaled, by finding unique items that are often unavailable anywhere and creating a whimsical atmosphere.
“Everything that comes in here is either specifically curated to what we feel our customers need or want and the demographic of the community,” he added. “A lot of the books that we carry are very conscious of diversity and representing different cultures and different kids.”
That carefully curated experience is even more important at a time when retail is on the decline. Vazquez said he believes people miss the human experience you can't get shopping online or in a big-box store.
“Nothing compares to having a kid walk into the store for the first time, see their favorite toy, and being able to run up to whatever it is and play with it,” he said.