Tucked beneath a law office in Old Town Square, you will find one of the zaniest, most-scatterbrained, giggliest and quirkiest toy owners in his tiny toy store, Science Toy Magic.
Matt Hannifin, who refers to himself as the man “with a toy store the size of a closet,” has operated his little toy shop in Fort Collins since December 2008.
After running the store in Santa Fe, New Mexico for seven years, Hannifin decided to relocate to Fort Collins.
“Sorry, this beat the pants off of Boulder,” said Hannifin on the location choice. “Boulder wasn’t even close.”
The shop is so tiny, most customers spill out of it while Hannifin pulls out anything from floating tops, revolving globes, self-balancing electric unicycles or boomerangs for the blind, all while explaining the science of it all at a mile a minute.
“I didn’t even know it was here. It’s so small,” said Melissa Brown, a human development and family studies sophomore at CSU.
For some, the store is a secret yet to be discovered, but for others, it’s a journey’s end.
“You’re a FoCo destination,” Amy Comi, a visitor from California, said to Hannifin. “You’re the toy guy.”
“Did they tell you? It’s gonna be weird,” Hannifin responds to Comi.
His oddity amuses most, in a way that makes them feel comfortable and invited into his magical world.
“Is it okay if I shoot you with a harmless blast of air with a bazooka?” Hannifin asks a customer with the Airzooka in hand, demonstrating the Bernoulli principle of fast moving air and pressure.
Lesher Middle School student Olivia How watches in awe from the foot of the steps of the toy shop as Hannifin continues his running monologue of science.
“I think she could come here all day and watch if she could,” said Monica Lambert, How’s mother.
“He’s funny,” said How, who wants to be a scientist when she grows up. “And he shows us how to do everything.”
Hannifin, who does not have any children of his own, said he “tortures other people’s instead,” although no one who goes in will want to leave any time soon.
One of the popular demonstrations is the copper tube, where Hannifin instructs the shop’s visitors to remove any electronics, due to magnetic forces.
While the rest of the onlookers watch for a reaction, the willing participant drops a small marble down the middle of the copper tube — and then the magic happens.
“That really is happening,” Hannifin tells the volunteer. “That’s not your imagination.”
Those brave enough to enter his shop will find toys demonstrating principles of science, as if by magic.
“The toys are also nerd-tested for durability,” Hannifin said. “And the best made of its kind.”
“Made in China” is not a label you will find in Science Toy Magic. The shop owner holds a high priority for US made toys, with nine-times as many non-Chinese toys compared to other stores.
Hannifin, who speaks Mandarin fluently, has traveled to internationally for many toy conventions, including the China Toy & Game Fair. According to Hannifin, China has stolen American inventions as an act of aggression.
At these conventions, he believes it important to be diplomatic.
Although zany and easily sidetracked, Hannifin is engaging and inviting to all he encounters.
He casts a spell of tolerance through his closet-sized toy shop, living out his motto to “never judge people how they seem.”
Collegian Features Beat Reporter Hannah Hemperly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.