Wearing a white lab coat, a screwdriver in hand, Antonio Martinez Rivas examines a remote-controlled car at his workshop in Madrid, a “toy hospital” that is about to close its doors after 50 years of repairs.
His bespectacled eyes focused on the task in hand, this 70-year-old toy specialist, who will retire on December 31, is hunched over his “operating table” just days before his workshop’s last Christmas.
“Now, it’s me they are going to repair,” he tells a customer in his gravelly voice, alluding to his continuing battle with cancer.
Lit by a neon light and surrounded by tools and spare parts, his workbench is in the corner of a veritable Aladdin’s cave, with thousands of colourful toys packing shelves that reach from floor to ceiling.
Among them are dolls, teddy bears, board games, wooden horses and more, all sent in by customers from Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Portugal and even as far away as Uruguay.
“We are the only ones working on every type of toy” in Spain, said Rivas, a Madrid native who learned from his father how to repair toys.
Most customers are “adults who are nostalgic about something they had as a child”, he said.
“Some tell me: ‘Don’t change it’. And if you want to put new stuffing in, they tell you to leave what’s already there because that’s part of the toy’s essence,” he explained.
David Hinojal, 40, has come to pick up a cuddly monkey that squeaks when its tummy is squeezed.
“I bought him as a present for my mother-in-law years ago and, after she died, we kept him because we’re very fond of him,” smiled Hinojal, who works in tourism.
Rivas’s father opened a small shop of handmade toys in 1945 before turning increasingly to repairs following the mass influx of plastic toys in the 1950s and ’60s. He took over the workshop from his father in the 1970s and, working alone, had to deal with the arrival of video games, which caused interest in traditional toys to fall.
“After so many years, you feel a lot of sadness [at closing] because there are so many customers who have become friends,” he admits, his head bowed.
As a tribute, his friends have put up a sign behind the counter that reads: “Almost everything for sale – the boss wouldn’t let us put a price tag on him.”