LAST FIVE DAYS OF LEGENDARY TOY STORE
The oldest toy store in Vienna will become a history soon. In five days, the legendary store of Carl Hilpert will close its doors forever. For 147 years the shop behind Stephansdom was the main place where the most cherished children’s dreams come true.
It was here, where the first Viennese lucky ones with fast heartbeat got the wrapped Märklin toy railway with clockwork and rails shaped like an eight.
Right at the counter, children studied the Yangtze board game, and carefully checked the wardrobe of the “biscuit” dolls – it contained almost everything what adult ladies of the Vienna high society used to wear.
For almost a century and a half, in Carl Hilbert they knew how to guess what the children would order to Santa Claus. The parents were always eager to go to this store with their children, they had a chance to buy a new toy for themselves.
Each time you could see something new in the windows of Carl Hilbert, the toys became more and more complicated, duplicating adult life.
When the airplanes appeared, the children and parents switched places. Not every father has climbed the plane ladder, but if he had a son, the airstrip in the child’s room was built.
A watch that could talk (not just tick), the first Nerf ball – for safe indoor play, insect explorer kits, radio-controlled models, tennis rackets, Rubik’s cube, ninja turtles, transformers.
Games and toys from around the world landed on Schulgasse and were immediately flying off the shelves. It seemed it would be forever. But something went wrong.
The Carl Hilpert store is still located in the historic center of Vienna at Schulgasse 1-3, right behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
In 1869, the merchant’s son Carl Hilpert moved from Nuremberg to Vienna and opened a toy store in the newly built Rothschilds’ house three years later.
At a time when there were no game consoles, tin soldiers, wooden horses, table puzzles and rag dolls, were delivered on horse-drawn carts to Hofburg from Schulgasse regularly.
In 1918, the business passed to his son Franz and his older sisters. It was thanks to their talents that Carl Hilpert acquired the reputation and status of a serious business player, and became the leading toy company in Austria.
“Selling toys is the best job in the world! This is always a pure joy,”
“Selling toys is the best job in the world! This is always a pure joy,” – smiles 75-year-old Alexander Hilpert, unscrewing a shelf above the staircase between the first and second floors. – Children will always need toys, friends, and games that develop memory, thinking and unite the whole family.
How come that „Carl Hilpert“ is closing, and Vienna sadly breaks up with childhood, leaving no one indifferent?
Today the owners of other long-lived brands are feeling lack of the customers of the Zetta and Alpha generation, just like Alexander Hilpert. For young generations, online shopping becomes more and more common.
It is unlikely that Karl Hilbert could have imagined that the best location in Vienna, which had been providing commercial success to the store for almost a century and a half, would ruin it in the end.
During the renovation of St. Stephen’s Square in 2017, when the whole area was blocked and it was difficult to get to the store, not only locals but also tourists were bypassing and overlooking the shop. Rental rates were rising, while Chinese online retailers were gaining speed.
“Back in the 80s and 90s we were competing with supermarkets, today a new powerful player has appeared on our field – an online store. We see how a buyer orders a product with one click anywhere in the world. It includes delivery, often – the next day”, says Hilpert.
With the closure of the store, the place of club meetings of Märklin fans also disappears. “Thanks to our railways, we always stood out among other stores,” says Alexander.
As soon as it became clear that the store would have to be closed, the Viennese families started to come to say goodbye to their childhood.
“I often dropped by your shop after the lessons, or sometimes instead of them” secretly admits the twelve-year-old boy, while his father is paying for his last personal train with Carl Hilbert signature inscription.
Alexander already knows how his pension will start. Active sports training will come later. At first – a visit to the nearest cinema with five grandchildren.
The long history of Viennese toys will end on the day when the final series of the Pixar’s cartoon Toy Story will be released. At the same day.
Text: Anna Sedykh
Photo:© Jeff Mangione, Märklin.com, carlhilbert.com