A major factor in Heath Harper’s decision to open Warp Drive Toys in North Pekin was a concern for his son’s happiness when the retailer Toys R Us closed all United States locations last summer.

“I always went to KB Toys or Toys R Us (as a child),” said Harper. “Those were things that were a big part of my childhood, and (my son) loved it too. As soon as (Toys R Us) closed up, he was devastated. So I said, ‘Come on, buddy. I’m doing this online, let’s go ahead and do the storefront with it.’”

Harper has been selling toys, movie prop replicas and collectibles online since 2014. Since opening Warp Drive in March, he has established the store as a true family business. His daughter, Katelyn Pilcher, 17, manages the store. His son, Joseph Harper, 8, has recovered from his post-Toys R Us closure trauma and now makes video reviews of new Warp Drive items.

Harper chose 410A Radio City Drive as the site for his store, because the rent on the property was affordable and it is in a high-traffic area.

“We like this (location) because it is on (Illinois Route) 29,” Harper said. “We know that Darcy’s (Cafe and Slots) gets a lot of traffic in. We also know the tattoo shop (Dark Horse Art Studio) gets a lot of traffic. So, we thought our exposure would be a little better, and there was some compensation with smaller rent, too. There were some other places we looked at that were probably a little better, but the rent was really high.” 

Warp Drive Toys specializes in toys, movie memorabilia and collectible figures. Items related to the “Harry Potter” books and movies, the television series “Supernatural,” and Marvel Comics are reliably popular, according to Harper. “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”-related items appear to be popular with the store’s older customers.

“We try to span all ages,” Harper said. “One of the things customers come in and say is, ‘We can’t believe you carry as much “Star Trek” as you do,’ which I guess is hard to find in a lot of shops locally. ‘Star Trek’ is one of our better sellers because of the older clientele.”

Harper also focuses on keeping “Star Wars” and “Battlestar Galactica” memorabilia in stock. “Star Wars” 6-inch Black Series action figures have been popular over the years, as well as one-sixth scale collectible action figures from the creative studio and movie memorabilia developer Quantum Mechanix Inc. (QMX). 

“We sell Black Series (figures) to a lot of people, and they tend to be popular online, too,” Harper said.

High-end items at Warp Drive include the QMX action figures at about $200 each and “Star Wars” helmets made by the Lucasfilms Ltd. and Walt Disney Company-licensed memorabilia firm Anovos Productions that can run up to between $500 and $600. Adults who are nostalgic for the movies, television shows, games and comics of their younger days are among Warp Drive’s more enthusiastic patrons, said Pilcher.

“Their faces are filled with awe when they walk in,” she said. “They see all the products and all the things they used to see as (children). They’re just so excited to look around, even if they don’t get anything. They’re excited to be here. They have fun looking at all the products and talking about them. We watched most of these shows and movies, so we have really close conversations with people about different movies that come out, like ‘(Avengers): Endgame’ or old ‘Star Trek’ shows.”

Harper said Pilcher’s knowledge of social media and modern popular culture makes her a valuable asset to his business.

“She knows everything about social media,” he said. “I look at it and I’m like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I have no clue what you’re talking about here.’ She grabs the social media and runs with it. I’m just blown away at what she knows at her age. She can relate to these people coming in, which is awesome. I love that about her. She’s my daughter, but she’s a great manager. And I can’t think of anybody else that I would trust with these products. There’s some expensive stuff here. Collectors, when they want stuff, want it pristine. She knows how to handle (collectibles) to keep them pristine.”

A primary reason Harper believes his store will turn a profit is its ability to provide a level of one-on-one customer service that is not possible at large department stores.

“We want to be able to help people find what they need, whether it’s for birthdays, for their own collections or whatever,” Harper said. “You’re not going to find the kind of customer service that we give when you walk into a big department store. It’s one-on-one. If we don’t have it, we’ll help you find it. We’re more about interacting with people than we are about selling our own products. 

“We want to be able to help people find what they need, whether it’s for birthdays, for their own collections or whatever,” Harper said. “You’re not going to find the kind of customer service that we give when you walk into a big department store. It’s one-on-one. If we don’t have it, we’ll help you find it. We’re more about interacting with people than we are about selling our own products. If we sell our stuff, that’s great. But we really enjoy the interaction with people. We want to help them find what they want to get and that’s really why we do it.”

Although the store’s interior sports the apparently obligatory “You Break It, You Bought It,” sign, Harper insists the placard  is only there for insurance purposes.

“The big thing that concerns me about society these days is our kids are so wrapped up in games and social media and things like that, they’re forgetting to use their imaginations and play with kids like we used to,” he said. “I think that’s important. We need to grab that back. I want kids to come in here and touch stuff. I don’t want parents to say, ‘Don’t touch that.’ I want them to feel it. They need to feel that toy to get that excitement out of it. If somebody breaks something, I’m going to be like ‘It’s OK. Don’t worry about it.’ We’re trying to drive something new to the kids that they need. Get them off the phones, get them off the video games, (encourage them to) use their imaginations and grow.”

Warp Drive is open from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Harper said he plans to extend store hours after the end of the school year later this month. For more information, visit warpdrivetoys.com.