Rockford Rocked. Preserving a cultural icon
By Todd Houston
[dropcap]The[/dropcap] Naruz Family purchased Toad Hall in 2006 from the estate of Larry and Bev Mason, who amassed a huge assemblage of books, records, and other collectibles over a 30-year period. Originally, Larry was running Buffalo Records on 7th Street and Beverly was running the bookstore, Toad Hall, just down the road. The two met, fell in love and married in 1970. They moved their combined inventory to Broadway into the old Rockview Pharmacy, which was a much larger building than either of their other stores.
Beverly Mason passed away in 2005 and the store and its inventory went up for sale on eBay. That’s where the Naruzes saw the listing and negotiated a deal outside the online auction house.
Fast forward 11 years: Toad Hall is still going strong and continues to garner a steady and loyal fan base. Vinyl record sales have been at an all-time high for the last four years and actual honest-to-god paper books seem to have an almost retro, hipster appeal these days. Rockford Rocked Interviews caught up with Nick Naruz Just after Toad Hall celebrated their 44th birthday to get some inside info about the iconic Rockford store.
RRI: Your family purchased Toad Hall in 2006. How daunting was the idea of sifting through thousands of books, records and other collectibles when you first took over the store?
NN: Overwhelming doesn’t really describe it. It was more like, “This is cool. Look at all these cool things. Let’s clean it up.” Back in those days, there was no hurry. We were in no rush to open or make it this big business. We were just enjoying it and basically organizing. Those days were fun but also the dustiest, grossest years. (laughs) I definitely don’t miss the roofs leaking every time it rained.
RRI: Were there any hidden treasures that you guys inadvertently uncovered while sorting and organizing the building?
NN: We get asked this all the time. Most of the treasures were just little things that you would still find today. Old books, really old magazines. Historically cool items. But no, nothing worth like $10,000 or anything. Remember, the Masons were sharp. If something came in the door with that value they sold it fast. Also, the old employees had access to the building during the closed years. So anything with huge value they probably took. I guess that’s their retirement for working all those years.
RRI: I can recall visiting the store for the first time as a teenager sometime around 1984. I remember the first thing that hit me as I walked in was the smell of musty paper mixed with a pinch of Grandma’s basement. It was something that I had never experienced or seen before. I must have spent two hours there and purchased five or six albums that day. Is it true that you guys really had no idea just how popular the store was until sometime after the takeover?
NN: Correct. We had visited the store a few times when the Masons had it. We knew it was something special. But had no idea how many people loved it, the history it had in the community and how people would support it. Kind of a fun story: we were inside cleaning and had a knock at the door. It was two nurses from the nearby hospital. They wanted to shop for records and we were like “sure come in”. Those two girls spent about $200 and that was the day we started to think this could be a real business. Maybe we should open it.
RRI: Do you guys do much in online sales?
NN: It’s a small portion of our business. It’s growing, but slowly. I would say it’s about 10 percent of what we do. You think competition is stiff locally? Now compete with the whole world. Most people don’t think about that.
RRI: Tell us about the book that you’re working on.
NN: We have acquired a 100-year-old Chamber of Commerce book. It has 108 pages of Rockford history. It is packed full of pictures and history of houses, business, parks and shows how the city is growing. It also paints a broad picture of the city 100 years ago. We have gotten permission from the Chamber to reprint the book. We hope to have it in the store for the Christmas season.
RRI: I must say that being upstairs in the book section of the store alone is a bit intimidating. Especially on the cold, rainy October day I was last there. Tell us a good ghost story.
NN: There is some evidence that there is a spirit in the building. We think it’s the ghost of Beverly. We have no proof of this yet; however, we have a ghost tour coming in the first weekend of November and also some ghost hunters coming through soon. Fun stuff!
RRI: I’m going to say a word or phrase and you answer with the first thing that pops into your head. Dungeons & Dragons.
NN: Gygax—since some of the first games of D&D were played in this store, Gygax visited occasionally.
RRI: Batman or Spider-Man?
NN: Batman—I personally collect Batman.
RRI: Beanie Babies.
NN: Nineties—definition of fad.
RRI: Rolling Stones or The Beatles?
NN: Beatles—biggest band of all time. Stones can not compete (laughs).
RRI: Where can we find more info on Toad Hall?
NN: We are located at 2106 Broadway, toadhallonline.com, or call us at 815-226-1259. R.