Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 21, 1978

Toyland Charms "Kids"of All Ages
By Mike May

"Childhood’s joyland,
Mystic, merry, Toyland;
Once you pass its borders,
You can ne’er return again."

No, that last sentence from the old Victor Herbert-Glen MacDonough song “Toyland” is not quite
right. Not if you’re talking about Aland’s Toyland.
“Kids” with gray hair and wrinkles are returning to the little Victorian building, a landmark of Butler’
s Main Street. And they’re bringing their grandchildren with them.
“I’ve watched three generations come into my store," says William Aland, who is the third
generation of the Aland family to be in business in the toy shop built by Aland’s grandfather in
1888.
Although seeming a bit frazzled by the Christmas rush as kids and parents bustle about the store
examining the stacks of toys, Aland said, “We’re really busy all the time in here. Not just at
Christmas.”
He sees it as a good sign. Especially now while burgeoning shopping center behemoths are
making small family businesses like Aland’s extinct.
“I thought the new shopping malls around Butler now would hurt our business. But we’re just as
busy as we ever were,” Aland exclaimed with a smile.
But perhaps there’s an obvious reason. Christmas is a traditional time; a nostalgic time. Unlike
the plastic, glare, tackiness and Madison Avenue-type sales gimmicks associated with the large
chain stores, Aland’s Toyland looks like something from Christmas past. And parents and even
grandparents seemingly want to make this memory from their childhoods something that can be
remembered by their children and grandchildren.
The Aland Building is the last extant 19th century storefront on Butler’s Main Street that has not
been adulterated by some modernization scheme through the years.
“That stone step you step up on to get in the building,” Aland explained, “was put there when the
building was built to keep mud and dogs out of the store. Back then Main Street was just mud,
and dogs were allowed to run loose.”
The Victorian display window is still there; its large panes of glass framed by slender, delicately
carved columns. Beside the entranceway is a large beveled-glass mirror, garnished with some
typical Victorian embellishments. “I don’t know why they ever put the mirror there. I guess people
back then just didn’t have enough places they could look at themselves,” Aland remarked.
Inside the two swinging doors, whose brass plates are kept constantly shiny by the hands of
generations of anxious youngsters, customers shuffle past the stacks of toys on original wooden
floors. Toys are displayed on wooden counters with massive mahogany legs. And in the back by
the cash register, a large wooden piece of Victorian ornamental whimsy—complete with carved
wooden cobwebs—separates the two sections of the toy store.
“My grandfather built the building originally as a tailor shop,” the grandson explained. “But with
more factory-made clothes being produced as the years went by, we decided to get into the toy
business.
“The store was originally called Aland’s Penny Store—in fact, a lot of old-timers from Butler still call
it that. But you won’t find much for a penny in here today.
“Back in the Depression when I first started working here our whole front section had all the toys
for a penny. You could get dolls or toy trucks for one cent. Of course back then a penny was a
penny.”
“Then in the late 1930s we got into some more expensive stuff. Toys that sold for clear up to 50
cents”, Alan remarked with a laugh. “Of course the 50 cent toys were only bought by people on
special occasions like birthdays of Christmas. Then about the 1940s things started to boom in
toys and we’d sell expensive toys all year ‘round. Today things are about the same. We sell
decorations for Christmas, birthdays, and parties now, too.”
And Aland observed that toys, like buying habits, have changed through the years:
“Today’s toys are much better than those from other years. They’re made better, and last longer.
Even places like Japan and Hong Kong that used to put out toys what were cheaply made are
making quality toys now. I can remember seeing toys that were made from old beer cans. You
don’t see that any more. And don’t forget, the U.S. government has tightened up standards for
toys.
“But I still examine the toys, and toys that aren’t good quality or are going to break easily I don’t
stock.”
But what about the kids? Butler’s changed. Toys have changed. Just about everything but Aland’
s itself has changed. What does a man who has seen three generations of wide-eyed kids come
and go in his store observe about children?
“The children never change,” he said. “The kids are always the same.”
A little girl—like countless little girls before her—steps up to the cash register in hopes of
purchasing a stick horse. She anxiously counts her change but finds herself short a quarter. She
looks dolefully at the clerk.
“That’s okay, honey,” he says. “It’s paid for.”
That’s not a scene you’ll likely see at a shopping center.
What about the future for Aland’s Toyland?
When asked, Aland, who has no children of his own, had the question answered for him by his
wife.
“Retirement,” said Mrs. Aland firmly.
And if Aland’s Toyland—one of the last of the vanishing bit of Americana—passes from the scene,
the words of the Victor Herbert tune someday may be sadly accurate.