Vincent, “Vinny,” Amato, the dapper, silver-haired businessman always sporting a nifty bowtie, known as the toymaster of Middletown, died Friday at age 87.
The founder of and New Britain was the inspiration for the naming of run by the . It’s named in honor of Amato, who originally donated the space for dance classes.
Amato’s toy store is a place where customers find a mix of classic, high-quality and time-proven toys. Folks who shop there for gifts know they can find Con Brio and Thomas the Tank Engine alongside giant and complicated Lego and Erector sets as well as Boy and Girl Scouts uniforms and badges, premiere art supplies and the area’s largest selection of model cars, Lionel and HO trains and airplanes.
Amato’s is the antithesis of Toys R Us — a place like no other.
“We’ve lost a great man. I lost a dear friend and mentor, someone I really looked up to for his dedication to his family, the business community and the city of Middletown,” says Larry McHugh, president of the
“It’s a huge loss for all of us here in Middletown. He was an unbelievable leader for 60 years,” McHugh said. “He was very, very active in the chamber, one of the founders of the Downtown Business District. He signed me in 1983 to my first contract in the old store on the second floor.”
Amato’s boyhood dream, according to Rob LeBlanc White of Wesleyan University, who wrote an in-depth profile of Amato in March 2000 in his own words, was to become an aircraft pilot.
“I got started in my business in the ‘30s. I was born in 1925, and by the middle '30s I was 12 or 13 years old and our heroes in those days were pilots like Lindberg and the others who did air racing and that kind of stuff, not like the orange-haired basketball players who are 8 feet tall and make millions of dollars," White writes.
"So, like a lot of other kids, I built model airplanes, the kind you put together with paper and string and wood,” White quotes Amato as saying.
In the area now called Riverview Center, there was Center Street. The plaque is there by the police department.
“A little store was run by Arthur Warmsley, photographer, and a friend of his that was a model airplane guy. The two of them had this store where they sold model airplanes and photographic supplies. They closed the store up when World War Two was eminent and so there was no place to buy model airplanes,” White writes.
Amato saved up $150 and asked his father, who had a plumbing and heating business in the building now occupied by Shlein's Furniture at 584 Main Street, if he could run a shop. Amato registered the name “Amato’s Hobby Center” with City Hall.
Every holiday season, Amato’s of Middletown sets up a massive train display in the basement of the store that features Vinnie’s pre-War Lionel trains, among many others. The chug-chug and "whoo-hoo!" whistles, complete with smoke, are a delight for train lovers of all ages.
His daughter, Diane Gervais, who just celebrated her 50th birthday with a large banner displayed for a week across the front of Amato’s in Middletown, devotedly manages the store. His two sons manage the New Britain store.
In 1985, McHugh said, Amato was elected as Connecticut Small Businessman of the Year in a national contest and in 1986, was elected by the Connecticut Small Businessman Association as a delegate to the White House Conference on Business.
Amato was involved in the chamber’s Legislative Committee and Rail Council, McHugh sais, has served as a Common Councilman, has been a part of three City Charter Revision Commissions and was chairman of the Council Parking Study in 1984. He was also a member of the Parking Authority and was chairman of the Corridor Advisory Committee.
Funeral sevices are Tuesday at 11 a.m. at . Caling hours will be Monday from 5-8 p.m. at The , 22 South Main Street.