It wasn't that long ago or even in a galaxy far, far away (unless you count the feeling of trying to get to McKinney during the 5 p.m. rush hour traffic on U.S. 75) that Jeff Durazzo and his son Josh bought a tiny, 500-square-foot place off of East Virginia Street that catered to what may have seemed like a weird and obscure idea for a downtown store: a shop that sold nothing but Star Wars toys and collectibles.
Josh recalls the tiny location that used to be a watch repair shop and looked more cramped than the Death Star's garbage compactor No. 3263827.
"There was no ceiling," he said. "It was just priority mail envelopes that were taped together. That's all the ceiling was."
That tiny store has grown since its beginnings in 2009 into Order 66 Toys, a 4,000 square-foot place on South Chestnut Street that boasts a massive gathering of just about every Star Wars toy, poster, figurine and replication and original movie prop that your pop culture-riddled mind can conjure, most of which are still in their sealed and well preserved packaging.
It's become a booming business for both father and son, but the two didn't start the store just so they could tap into that profitable market of affluent fanboys or girls who are willing to shovel over two week's pay for an unopened Kenner Jawa figurine from 1978 with its own vinyl cape.
"I'm a cancer survivor," Josh said, referring to his esophageal and throat cancer diagnoses that started when he was just 12 years old. "I was unable to finish high school. I was having surgeries every two weeks and that would take a week to prep and a week to recover from them."
Jeff said he wanted to give his son a business that would not only provide him with the financial stability he needed for mounting medical bills but could also help take care of Josh's family and Jeff's granddaughters.
"This is their store," Jeff said. "We dedicated this store to them."
Jeff started his career in the U.S. Navy running emergency rooms before turning his comic book and toy obsessions into his regular job in Tampa. He eventually moved to Plano so he could be closer to his two granddaughters, Jemma and Jocelyn, and his son, and he noticed McKinney's downtown square might be a prime location for a collectible toy shop. The first version of the Durazzo's family business had only 12 Star Wars figures in the whole shop next to a huge collection of toys and poker supplies. It sold a lot faster than any of them expected.
"Just four months after we opened, this guy comes in, and I'm not going to name names except that he's a local attorney," Josh said. "He comes in and goes, 'I want that, that and that' ... He bought everything except for the Star Wars toys."
Jeff and Josh had to restock their supply after selling almost 60,000 toys and collectibles in one swoop. They came across two massive collections of Star Wars toys from private collectors, enough to fill up their entire store with nothing but Kenner original stormtroopers and Death Star and Millennium Falcon play sets. And Order 66 Toys, the technical term for the order given by Chancellor Palpatine to commence the execution of all the Jedis in the third prequel film Revenge of the Sith, was born.
Cut to the following October during McKinney's downtown Oktoberfest celebration and Jeff is manning the store to handle the foot traffic. A large man who had been enjoying "a couple of adult beverages" walked in the door and saw his entire childhood neatly packaged on shelves in front of him.
"He starts rubbing his eyes and going, 'This is so beautiful,'" Jeff said. "When he did that, I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'This is my childhood. This is everything I remember as a child, everything I played with.' If I could have recorded that as a commercial, it would have gone viral and we would have 20 stores by now, but we realized at that second how big Star Wars really was."
The store's formula worked so well that they've not only been able to expand their operation, but they've also attracted quite an interesting following in the Star Wars online community that regularly brings strangers to McKinney from all over the world just to see the fabled store that they've read about on message boards and Tumblr postings.
"The first Christmas we were open, someone came in who didn't speak a lick of English," Josh said. "Dad understood what he was saying because he grew up in Germany on an Army base. He heard about us on some forum and flew to the U.S. just to see us."
Josh said unlike other sci-fi franchises with cult followings like Star Trek and the recent revamping of Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars is the ideal pop culture property to dedicate a store to because of its never-ending reach across generational lines. Even now after George Lucas sold his entire creation to the Walt Disney Corp., they are still working to release another movie that picks up after Return of the Jedi with Star Trek director J.J. Abrams sitting in the tall chair, and at least five more films are in the works.
"It works because it's global," he said. "Everyone of the right age group and people who aren't of the right age group has heard of Star Wars. Lucasfilm has done a really good job of reinventing itself for each generation."
Their insane word of mouth and highly sought after collectibles have attracted a stream of steady customers and even caught the attention of the franchise's most recognizable faces such as Peter Mayhew, the very tall man in the extremely hot Chewbacca costume. They're even planning some bigger events such as an outdoor screening of the first three films across the street from the store and even some possible, in-store signings with names like Phantom Menace star Jake Lloyd and actor Daniel Logan, the young boy who would become Boba Fett. Jeff said he's even eying a few new locations in places like Plano and Richardson to expand his "empire's" operations.
More important, the store has become a place for Josh to go as he struggled with his health while trying to take care of his family. Josh said he still suffers from some complications from the medication he had to take all those years but his bills and insurance are covered in full and he has an amazing place to work and play everyday.
To Jeff, it's more than just a business. It's a home away homeworld.
"For me, an adult male needs a place to go to whether it's work or play that's a place of their own, and it was important to me to ensure that Josh had a place of his own," Jeff said. "Almost four years later, the store supports itself, pays the bills and allows us to improve every single day that we're open ... It's an amazing blessing all the way around."
That sense of family is what he believes has made Order 66 Toys such a powerful force among Star Wars fans and collectors.
"We are extremely family and child friendly," Jeff said. "We want everyone who comes in here to feel absolutely comfortable with being a nerd."
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